Thursday, May 31, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Unincorporated Man -- Dani and Eytan Kollin

I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Harriet Tubman

I learned from hard experience it’s extremely difficult to define utopia, but dystopia is dead easy. I made this discovery in a Composition II class where our whole semester was a group project culminating in one assignment which would constitute 100% of our grade. The groups, constructed by the instructor, were to devise a utopic society and present that society in a twenty-page report along with a presentation, which would include pictures, cut from magazines or other media. (This was the 1980’s when color printers and web images were not readily available)

Pretty quickly, our group realized none of us shared the same utopic vision, particularly when you mixed in the few requirements of our societies that our instructor specified. We had to have a mission, purpose, and some kind of identity among other things.

In a fit of honesty, we defined our idea of dystopia. Lack of freedom was the first descriptor. We couldn’t choose who we worked with or the project we worked upon. Further, we had no ability within the class to speak out about the assignment or our group members. Those of us who wanted to succeed had success defined for us by others.

The Unincorporated Man fits much of that description. And like the best dystopic fiction, this book builds on the hot issue of abuse of corporate power and takes it to one of the worst possible outcomes. Three hundred years from now, no one’s born free. From their first breath, the government owns five percent and their parents get a twenty percent share. Siblings also gain some control in hopes that ownership will reduce family rivalry. For their entire lives, people are forced to live by majority rule and fight for control of their own destinies.

Books like The Unincorporated Man shadow our dreams and make thoughtful readers ask “what if” when they see similar themes in their society. I definitely did after reading 1984 and Animal Farm (my first and still some of my favorite dystopic fiction) I have actually recommended this book to several people of all political strata, including Jasmine, a lovely young college student who had the most evocative ink I’ve ever seen on the inside of her wrist – it was a UPC code. Jasmine told me the tattoo was her form of protest of the commodification of people. The barcode would scan for out as a liter of Diet Coke®.

So, what’s the story? Three hundred years in the future, a tunnel rat (mine scavenger) is exploring an abandoned mine. Modern mining methods have made it possible to recover minerals previously thought unfeasible. He’s hoping this find will help him gain majority. Owning fifty-one percent of his stock would mean unprecedented control of his life and the ability to make decisions his other stockholders mostly could not overrule.

What he finds instead is a big black box which may well have belonged to Pandora. On closer examination, he realizes the box is a cryo-chamber. Reanimation and nanomedicine have extended the lives of this present generation to well over a hundred. Some people are even working into their late 100’s. But, this isn’t the standard cryo chamber and something tells the miner he might have gotten a better break than he ever imagined.

The “corpesicle” the miner found was a man from our times who hadn’t opted for the standard cryogenesis, which had actually failed in the first generations. The staff of the Boulder, Colorado hospital, including Dr. Neela Harper, a reanimation specialist, fought the corporate structure to give the man back his life and heal him. What finally aided them was an anonymous ten million dollar donation that even the mighty corporation could not trace.

What they discovered was they’d just revived the most dangerous man in their society, the only person who was entirely free. And this particular unincorporated man was even more dangerous. That man is Justin Cord, a billionaire from our time was born free and he still remembers the history of slavery. According to the book, President Winfrey from his time ran on a platform which included reparation to former slaves.

Having been a celebrity in his own time, Justin is also well-versed in dealing with the press and corporate tactics. It doesn’t hurt at all that he’s handsome and the reanimation program brought him back younger than he was at his death.

But not to fear. GCI, the corporation that reanimated Justin has their best man working to get Cord to sign. Justin’s barely warmed up before Hektor Sanbianco’s on the scene with papers and not so veiled threats. Hektor’s the kind of man who gets what he wants—“what you couldn’t steal outright, you could attempt to steal with incessant litigation with the hopes of eventual settlement.”

Most of the society would agree with Hektor and GCI. Why? The best answer this reviewer can give comes from another writer of an excellent dystopia:

“Every faction conditions its members to think and act a certain way. And most people do it. For most people, it's not hard to learn, to find a pattern of thought that works and stay that way. But our minds move in a dozen different directions. We can't be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can't be controlled. And it means that no matter what they do, we will always cause trouble for them.” Veronica Roth, author of Divergence

The minute Justin starts speaking out, people start thinking again and considering what it means to be truly free. The question is—will the future society force Justin to incorporate? When The Chairman of GCI can have someone killed without a moment’s concern for the consequences and the company owns the contract of the woman Justin loves, the stakes are extremely high.

The Unincorporated Man is not what I’d term a page-turner, which may be a good thing. Most of us don’t have the time it takes to thoughtfully read a near thousand page book in one sitting. This is one story that’s best absorbed over a two or three sessions. Characters and concepts are carefully drawn by a detail-oriented author who plays chess with his paper people like a master. Even the antagonist’s name—Hektor Sanbianco—is brilliant.

I don’t generally make recommendations about book format; however, I will in this case. Due to the length of The Unincorporated Man, I found the typeface in the hardbound volume small and difficult to read. I was much more comfortable with an ebook and the ability to adjust sizes and change typefaces at my discretion. Freedom—even in the smallest choices, is very good.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle

May 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

COMMENTARY: Should I write with a friend?

Just recently, I finished beta reading an amazing novel by Allison Dickson and Ian Thomas Healy. The Oilman's Daughter is an alternate history with steampunk, trains and pirates. What's not to love?

Both Dickson and Healy are excellent writers, but I think this collaborative effort combined the best of their talents. This was the easiest beta read I've ever done. There was very little wrong with the book even when I went through the manuscript a second time with a more critical eye.

Definitely, in this case, two heads were better than one. But, that isn't necessarily always so. I've had two collaborative writing experiences with two entirely different results.

First, my then-best friend and I decided to write together. Seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. I loved sharing ideas with her and we had a lot of fun at first; however, I realized after that she really wasn't as serious as I was. I was set to tell her we needed to end the collaboration when she got hurt. How can you kick a person when they're down. So I waited til after her surgery and recovery and suggested we start working again. We set a date. On that date, she said she could not commit to writing every day and "It'd get done when it got done." Essentially, I wrote up an agreement where we got a writing divorce. That was important because we had two separate lines of work. Our friendship followed shortly after. Do I miss her? Not precisely. I miss what I thought we had; however, someone who repeatedly gives their word and cannot seem to follow through isn't that good a friend. Some people come to you to provide memories and life lessons. She was one of those people.

Second, a friend who knew I wrote asked if I would help her and her collaborator on an article for their business. I admit, I was hesitant after my first experience. However, all three of us worked hard and we ended up with a beautiful article that ended up getting published. The three of us are still friends and yes, I'd work with them anytime they asked me to.

What was different?

PROFESSIONALISM: The first thing I'd say is this was a business deal as all writing should be. You're in it to make a book which hopefully will sell and make money for both of you.

COMMITMENT: The two collaborators were already used to working together and they both were determined to push their business to the next level. I was willing to work just as hard as they were.

GOAL: Both had a defined goal in mind. They wanted an article with pictures for a specific magazine.

ASSIGNED TASKS: We all had our jobs to do and we did them to the best of our ability.

DEADLINE: The editor gave us a deadline for the work to be done. We all believed if we didn't make it, we wouldn't get in.

SHARING: When we needed to, we shared tasks and we weren't afraid to ask for additional help when we needed it. For example, we called in my spouse to assist with the Photoshop work because he had more experience than any of us.

Now, writing a novel is a bit different than writing an article, true. So, what do successful writing teams say about working collaboratively? Here's Evelyn David's take (yes, they are actually two people who have written several novels together):

What would I add to that?

START SIMPLE: Pick an anthology you both have an interest in and write a story together. You've got a definite topic, word length, and deadline. If you don't manage to create the story within the time-limit, you can try another simple project, but don't commit to a novel until you know you can work together. And leave yourself room to write your own work in case the collaboration doesn't work.

A writing partnership is in many ways like a marriage. You work together for a common goal. If it doesn't work, it's painful to dissolve and it takes the friendship with it. So don't undertake that kind of relationship unless you are willing to make the commitment necessary--and risk losing the friend.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Buntline Special -- Mike Resnick

Of course, you've heard of the OK Corral, but you've never quite heard of it like Mike Resnick tells the tale. In his Weird West alternate history full of steampunk, it's 1881 and the US borders stop at the Mississippi River. Beyond lies Indian Territory and shamanic magic commanded primarily by the Indian Chief, Geronimo.

The Earp Brothers are hired to guard Thomas A. Edison, who is sent to Tombstone to see if it's possible for Science to overcome Magic. They're opposed by both the Indians and the Clantons.

Of course, we pretty much know what's going to happen. However, much hilarity ensues here. You ain't seen the Wild West until you've read some of Resnick's inventions. I strongly suggest you read most of the book with nothing to drink in your mouth, there are scenes that will leave you guffawing and the book drying. There are several portions of this book I had to re-read simply because I was laughing so hard the first time, I wanted to make sure I didn't miss a plot thread.

Remember, this book is not labeled "Weird West" for no reason. If you take your history seriously, don't go there. On the other hand, if you enjoy a good steampunk romp, this is a book you need to read.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Territory -- Emma Bull

I first discovered Emma Bull shortly after her fantasy novel, War for the Oaks, was released in the 1980s. In WftO, the protagonist was a rock-and-roll musician (not the then-common folk/earth mother) who is unwittingly brought into a war between opposing forces (both fairie). I've read that book so many times that I can recite whole passages from it.

Emma Bull's Territory is set in the months before the famous "shootout at OK Corral." In this novel, the two protagonists are unwittingly caught in the crossfire between two opposing forces -- the Earps and those who want to wrest away their control over the mining boomtown. As in WftO, the characters are people who don't quite accept the roles society expects for them: a young widow who's a typesetter at the newspaper and a horse tamer with an unacknowledged magical gift.

And it is absolutely marvelous.

Emma Bull is a brilliant storyteller who simply does everything right. She creates characters who, after only a few pages, you believe are real, and whose fate you care about desperately. The setting captures the climate, in both the weather and political senses; you're brought into a world of social proprieties, in which people are loathe to call friends by their first names, even during emergencies. The story... well, I'm rather blown away by Bull's ability to write around the "known facts" of the Tombstone era. Nor could I put the book down.

If you're a fantasy fan, you may fret a little bit about reading a "western." If you're a western or historical fan, you might be concerned about adding unrealistic-sounding fantasy to this story. Please don't worry: Bull's inclusion of fantasy and magic is simply one of the "issues" that her characters have to deal with, not Merlin charging in on a white steed, guns blazing, in an anachronistic manner. It works.

If you're looking for a novel into which you can fall head-first and escape your own mundane life for a few hours, please do pick up this book. Highly recommended.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

COMMENTARY: A last wish -- fulfilled to the best of my ability

In her roommate, Kevin's, own words:
"She's an extraordinary lady. She was 8 years old when I brought her home after her first family abandoned her because they'd brought in a kitten she couldn't/wouldn't get along with. She gave me three days, and decided I was fine. That's it. I'm fine. I want that on my tombstone:

A decent roommate/Not bad as a human male/alive he was fine."
It is with great regret that I write that I could not fulfill the last wish of Bella's owner. I am presenting the last wish here and then following it up with what I hope is the best way to absolve my own pains and regrets:
"I hope your holidays have been good. All of my siblings were here for the first time in 20 years or more for Christmas and we had a pleasant one. No gifts except each other's loved company.

I need a favor from you at some time in the next year. I'm dying and probably won't last another year. I'm ok with that, I've had 8 years to adjust to the proposition. But more and more lately I've realized that Bella is going to outlive me, and I've been worried about what happens to her.

This afternoon I called the vet I adopted her from and they told me to bring her back whenever I was ready and they'd find her a new home. Now she has a place to go, and my hope is that since they found me to adopt her, they can find someone else to care for her. It's better than going to the pound.

So here's the favor I need. I'm not going to die suddenly (unless hauling groceries up those stairs kills me) but I will likely die quickly. I don't want to take her there now, she likes living with me and I think she helps keep me alive. So at some point I'll head to the hospital for a last time and when that happens I'll send you an email or give you a call and ask you to take her to the vet.

I ask this because Dad is now confined to a nursing home, my mother is only semi-competent, and my neighbor is not an animal person. The vet is only a couple of miles away from my house, perhaps four miles from yours. and I have a carrier for her (which you're free to keep). She's not social, but she's not aggressive either.

If you would prefer to keep her yourself, and she fits in, I'm ok with that. I think Bella had a poor (not bad) life before me and I just want her to be as happy as I can manage. My siblings will have to figure out how to care for my parents.

Note: my current health is currently private, please don't disclose it to anyone.

Thank you both for considering this,"

Tony and I readily agreed to this request. Not just for Bella's human, but for her, too. Eleven is still young for a cat--if the vet was willing to place her, we were more than willing to transport her.

We'd heard only sporadically from Kevin. That was quite common for him. He admitted to not liking people very well and we did not wish to intrude.

To our shock, a mutual friend advised us Kevin had died--in fact, several days before. We moved into Emergency Mode. It was Friday afternoon (of course) and we knew we had limited time:

First, we called the vet's to see if Bella had been taken there by a family member. No.

Next, the police to find out what to do. They advised us a family member had found Bella's owner and the shelter came to get the pet.

Next, we tried to locate family members via Facebook and Directory Assistance. Neither one was quick.

Next, we called the Animal Shelter. When we didn't hear back within an hour, we drove there in person, hoping we could find Bella among the cats. This entailed a heroic effort on the part of the shelter staff. They went through days of records and walked us through the entire facility in the hopes we'd find Bella.

Ultimately, we discovered Bella had been surrendered by a family member at the time our friend died. We were too late. With an owner surrender, the shelter has a day to make a decision on the pet. They'd evaluated Bella's health and found she had runny eyes and a URI and opted to euthanize her for health reasons.

After we left, the call from our friend's sister came in. The family had known that our friend had arrangements, but they didn't know what they were. Tony and I both shed more than a few tears over this situation.

I personally believe that Kevin and Bella are together again. It wasn't what Kevin wanted--but it is what it is. 

Why am I writing this?  If you have animals and you have not made some kind of preparations for them, you need to. Your beloved animal family should not die when you do. As I am researching this question for Tony and I, I'll have the answers for you in a follow-up entry. 

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

RIP: Miz Ellen

What I remember first about Miz Ellen was how she made me laugh. Her ready and incisive wit made me an instant fan. One of her last quips was related to Mondrian's "Trafalgar Square," which I finally got to see in Atlanta this past year: "As for Mondrian--he was just giving us a good line..." 

 We met as reviewers for the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest. She was spot-on with her comments about the contestants' writing, but she handled herself with graciousness, tact, and humor. I was honored when she extended her friendship.

Of course, I knew she was a writer. If she wasn't, I was going to tell her she should be. So, I'm stealing her own words from an email to me after I lost a dear friend last year. They say it better than I ever could--and Ellen won't have a chance to speak again. 
"Words fail. I can only reach out in compassion. The Buddha knew what he was talking about when he said, 'Attachment causes suffering.' It took me years to realize that this did not mean we had to root out the love we felt in our heart." Ellen Mizell – October 2011
But who could resist getting attached to Ellen? She was familiar to me from the beginning. Her life motto was at least word-for-word what my grandfather Mac used to tell me growing up. "Learn something new every day. It keeps you growing."

Ellen didn't just learn herself. She was an excellent teacher. Here's more of her wisdom culled from emails and her blog:

"Life and age and illness will impose limits on our endeavors; death is the ultimate stillness. But if we sit still, open, listening, the universe or God or Enlightenment might have a chance to catch up to us. I have been more alive since I have learned stillness; my mind can take me further than any plane ever will." 
"To anticipate life like that is to fail to live it fully. Waiting should be a process, not a pause. Good things do come to those who sow the seeds and wait for the harvest to come in. It takes discipline and faith to live in the moment, to embrace waiting and to use it to advance our spiritual progress." 
"Sadly, lying is against my religion. Dang religion. Christians can just have faith; to be Buddhist you have to practice. I need lots more practice…"
"Don't be afraid to take your new project slowly and think what you want to do...or to give your characters some slack to see what happens." 
"I start to see how good editing makes the good sublime." 
Here’s an example from Ellen’s own work that I think of every time I brew a cup of tea, which happens to be most every day.
“Black tea, grown in China, blended and processed in England. Teahouses, trade wars, and a great world empire. A world in a cup.” 
This came from the first book of hers I read, a space-opera, which she abandoned for a paranormal fantasy series. These lines so beautifully described an ordinary experience that it's haunted me and driven me to write cleaner and more economically. And like Ellen, to make the ordinary extraordinary.

Knowing as a writer she needed a presence on the Web, Ellen moved into blogging. Her blog, The Final Word, isn’t just about writing, though, it’s about all aspects of life and death. 

Being Ellen, she was hungry for ideas. She asked for suggestions. Then, she dared me to argue with her on every topic from Congress to Capitol Punishment. The one topic we just didn't agree on was toilet paper:

Ellen was also one of the bravest souls I’ve known. I don’t know if she knew her death was imminent, but she touched on passing in all of her Tiffany DeWeese novels.

Her last novel, Spirit Horse, had a passage which I will never forget.
"For a wonder, no other spirits crowded up to use the gate and I stood alone in the otherworldly light. The gate beckoned, opening on a distant vista of green pastures, sparkling brooks and tall stately trees. I smiled: today my view of heaven looks just like Kentucky horse country. Tomorrow it will be something different." 
I’m leaving you with Ellen’s last words from the same comforting email she sent me in October 2011. I believe she would want to say this to everyone she cared about:
"One can not love a butterfly by grabbing it and holding your hand, open your heart and let all the people, animals and spirits that you love go free."  Ellen Mizell, October 2011 

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Sound of my Voice

Director: Zal Batmanglij

Writers: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij

Christopher Denham ... Peter Aitken
Nicole Vicius ... Lorna Michaelson
Brit Marling ... Maggie
Davenia McFadden ... Carol Briggs
Kandice Stroh ... Joanne
Richard Wharton ... Klaus
Peter and his girlfriend, Lorna join a cult so Peter can get his big break as a journalist. Rumor has it that Maggie is from 2054 and she's got a message for the people of today. Peter wants to expose her as a fraud and make a name for himself.
Maggie's followers aren't easy to convince. You've got to thoroughly wash with soap before you visit. You're bound and blindfolded and driven to the location where Maggie meets you in a basement. The group's got some rigorous conforming rituals as well.
The Good: Brit Marling was an amazing choice for the charismatic Maggie. She's luminous, somewhat devious and she clearly owns that group of people. But, is she from the future? That's a very good question.
I love psychological sci-fi over technological because at some point, technology's going to change but human psychology doesn't. The Sound of Her Voice definitely holds some psychological intrigue.
The Bad: This is clearly a low-budget film. It could be made in a couple of homes and the La Brea Tar Pits. That's not a bad thing. Paul, for example, was made on a shoe-string and I believe it's going to become a cult classic. The Sound of Her Voice doesn't hold that kind of appeal.
No, the film was not worth matinee price and I would not own the DVD. However, I'd definitely recommend this film as a rental for a Saturday night gathering of some of your geeky sci-fi friends. Add some libations and conversation and you'll have some entertainment. Discuss the psychology of groups and have fun with portions of the film. I'm afraid there were points in the film where our group's reactions were loud enough that if we hadn't been the only ones in the theater, we might well have gotten kicked out.
Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Men in Black 3

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writers: Lowell Cunningham
(based on the Malibu Comic by), Etan Cohen


Will Smith ... Agent J
Tommy Lee Jones ... Agent K
Josh Brolin ... Young Agent K
Jemaine Clement ... Boris The Animal
Emma Thompson ... Agent O
Michael Stuhlbarg ... Griffin
Mike Colter ... Colonel
Nicole Scherzinger ... Boris' Girlfriend
Michael Chernus ... Jeffrey Price
Alice Eve ... Young Agent O
David Rasche ... Agent X
Keone Young ... Mr. Wu
Bill Hader ... Andy Warhol
Cayen Martin ... Colonel's Son

Agent J and K have been together fourteen years--give or take a bit of time for Agent K to return to his former life--and the relationship is still not what J wants. He needs more, particularly when he realizes that his long-time partner is keeping secrets from him.

Next thing he knows, K is gone and a species of aliens he knew to be extinct are invading the Earth. J's the only one who remembers K even being alive in the modern time, so he's got to travel back to 1969 when his partner died and put time back right.

I seriously loved the first MIB. I realize reader feelings will vary depending on whether you read the comics or not. Not being a comic reader, I enjoyed the comedy and the interplay between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. MIB 2 wasn't precisely a favorite. I re-viewed it today and nearly fell asleep.

In MIB 3, they've got the old feeling back. Both Jones and Smith are playing off each other like the first film and Josh Brolin does a mean job playing Young Agent K. For me, the chemistry is very much the same between the two actors.

Loved the time-travel aspect and particularly enjoyed going back to the Sixties. I probably already own most of the soundtrack, but it was fun to see the fashions, the happenings and the whole era. Yeah, it's still corny, but that's what the whole film's about.

In my case, we saw the film for full-price and both of us felt it was worth it. I'll add the Blu-Ray to the collection and occasionally see at least MIB1 and MIB3 whenever the mood hits me.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Blue Like Jazz

Directed by Steve Taylor Writing credits (in alphabetical order) Donald Miller screenplay Donald Miller story Ben Pearson screenplay Steve Taylor screenplay Cast: Claire Holt ... Penny Tania Raymonde ... Lauryn Jason Marsden ... Kenny Marshall Allman ... Donald Miller Eric Lange ... The Hobo Justin Welborn ... The Pope Natalia Dyer ... Grace Becky Fly ... Professor Jeffrey Buckner Ford ... James Larkin Zephyr Benson ... Robot #2 Wendy Keeling ... Choir Lady Matt Godfrey ... Yuri Don's a Texas boy raised up in a typical Southern Baptist Church when his ne-do-well father who hadn't paid child support prior to this offered to put him through Reed College in Portland, OR rather than having him go to the Christian college he'd planned on attending. When Don realizes his Mom's getting it on with his church's very married Hispanic Youth Minister, he takes his Dad up on the offer. Not only does Don get tuition to Reed, but he also gets his Dad's collection of vintage jazz vinyl. We're talking Coltrane, baby. His Dad's trying to make a point--neither jazz nor religion actually resolve. Don's in for a whole new world at Reed. It's cool to question everything -- even Christianity. It's just not so cool that you are a Christian. Can Don's faith survive the new environment? Does jazz actually resolve? Does the film answer the questions? This is an excellent art film with a good deal of thought behind it. What the real answers are may well depend on what you bring to the film, but it's well worth viewing if you enjoy seeing solid character transformations. Rebecca Kyle, May 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Director: Lasse Hallström
Writers: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay),
Paul Torday (novel)


Amr Waked ... Sheikh Muhammed
Emily Blunt ... Harriet
Catherine Steadman ... Ashley
Tom Mison ... Capt. Robert Mayers
Ewan McGregor ... Dr. Alfred Jones
Rachael Stirling ... Mary Jones
Kristin Scott Thomas ... Patricia Maxwell
Tom Beard ... Peter Maxwell
Jill Baker ... Betty
Conleth Hill ... Bernard Sugden
Alex Taylor-McDowall ... Edward Maxwell
Matilda White ... Abby Maxwell
Otto Farrant ... Joshua Maxwell
Hamish Gray ... Malcolm
Clive Wood ... Tom Price-Williams

A Yemeni sheik dreams of bringing his favorite sport to his home country believing that salmon will add to the diversity of his desert home. And he's willing to put his oil money where his dreams are. But Britain's leading fishery expert is not convinced. It takes the British Prime Minister's press secretary desiring a good news story to force the project to happen.

The story's full of wry British humor and just a bit of romance as well. One thing I learned is never make assumptions until you know the whole story and dream big.

The film was definitely worth the price of a matinee. I'm not sure I'll purchase the DVD or not. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but I don't know if either my husband or I need to see it again to remember it.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Dark Shadows

Directed by Tim Burton

Writing credits

Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay)

John August (story)
Seth Grahame-Smith (story)
Dan Curtis (television series)


Cast (in credits order)

Johnny Depp ... Barnabas Collins
Michelle Pfeiffer ... Elizabeth Collins Stoddard
Helena Bonham Carter ... Dr. Julia Hoffman
Eva Green ... Angelique Bouchard
Jackie Earle Haley ... Willie Loomis
Jonny Lee Miller ... Roger Collins
Bella Heathcote ... Victoria Winters / Josette DuPres
Chloë Grace Moretz ... Carolyn Stoddard
Gulliver McGrath ... David CollinsRay Shirley ... Mrs. Johnson
Christopher Lee ... Clarney
Alice Cooper ... Alice Cooper
Ivan Kaye ... Joshua Collins
Susanna Cappellaro ... Naomi Collins
Josephine Butler ... David's Mother
William Hope ... Sheriff
Shane Rimmer ... Board Member 1
Michael Shannon ... Board Member 2
Harry Taylor ... Henchman
Glenn Mexted ... Captain Rubberpants
Guy Flanagan ... Bearded Hippie
Nigel Whitmey ... Hard Hat 1
Philip Bulcock ... Hard Hat 2
Sophie Kennedy Clark ... Hippie Chick 1
Hannah Murray ... Hippie Chick 2
Victoria Bewick ... Hippie Chick 3
Sean Mahon ... Collinsport Cop
Alexia Osborne ... Young Victoria
Richard Hollis ... Vicky's Father
Felicity Brangan ... Vicky's Mother
Michael Anthony Brown ... Windcliff Doctor
Charlotte Spencer ... Coat Check Girl
Gabriel Freilich ... Hippie 3
Justin Tracy ... Young Barnabas - aged 6
Thomas Grube ... Construction Worker 1
Jeff Mash ... Construction Worker 2
Raffey Cassidy ... Young Angelique
Jonathan Frid ... Guest

When the original Dark Shadows first made its appearance on daytime television, I was eight years old. I made a very quick crush transition from Peter Tork of The Monkees to Barnabas Collins.

My Mother did not approve. The only way I could convince her to allow me to watch the show was to do an hour of piano practice and some housecleaning. And I did it. I'm still a fan and yes, I was ready to see the Tim Burton film on the first night.

So, what's the plot? Basically, back in the 1700's, young wealthy Barnabas Collins had a dalliance with the housemaid, Angelique. Unfortunately for him, when he threw her over for a more "appropriate" girl, Angelique turned out to be a witch--I'm talking a real witch.

Angelique lures Barnabas's love Josette off a cliff to her death in the sea. Barnabas races to save her and falls as well, but Angelique saves him and turns him into a vampire.

She also imprisons him in his coffin for two hundred years. Barnabas is freed in 1972. It's love, peace, hippies--and his family is broke and desperately in need of his help. Angelique is also now in control of the town the Collins family used to own.

Anyone who's watched the old show will tell you--this is definitely nothing like the original Dark Shadows. I already know some hardcore fans strongly do not approve.

Strangely enough, I do. Even stranger, my dear husband who cannot stand gore and suspense and only went with me as a courtesy loved the show. He described it as a "hoot." Who'd have thunk it?

What I like about Tim Burton's reboot is that he took the time Barnabas reawakened into mind. We saw hippies, drug abuse, and yes, Alice Cooper--who was my favorite rock singer for several years. Yet, Burton also kept some gothic gore and the "feel" of the original show.

Burton's Dark Shadows has definitely lost some of the grace and flair of the original show, but I'm going to be honest and say I'm not sure anyone could play Barnabas in the same elegant manner as Jonathan Frid. Same with Julia Hoffman's character. The sets have definitely improved and the soundtrack is great if you love 70's rock music.

If you're a purist, watch the trailer carefully and if you find poking fun at the original offensive, don't waste your money. On the other hand, if you're flexible and don't mind a reboot with a different twist, give the new version a go. Both of us liked this film well enough to pay full price and to add the DVD to our collection. That's saying a lot considering Tony's aversion to horror films as a rule.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Chimpanzee

Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Mark Linfield
Stars: Tim Allen

I've been seeing the ads for this documentary for months now and when Chimpanzee finally came to our local art theater, I had to go.

Chimpanzee is the story of Oscar, a young male chimp in the Ivory Coast who's doing well until his mother is killed. Surprisingly, Oscar is taken on as a protege by the alpha-male of his group and nurtured.

As you can imagine, the filming is beautifully done. Tim Allen is the perfect voice for the chimps. The jungle seems a cool green place at first for chimps to frolic. But there's only so much resources and bands of chimps fight. This is a film that can be seen by all ages. The death of Oscar's mom is sad, but it's nowhere near as traumatic as the hunter killing Bambi's mother. All but the very young can watch this film and derive a great deal of enjoyment and education from it.

Chimpanzee was well worth matinee price. I doubt I will purchase this film, but I would strongly recommend it for teachers who want to show classes how animals grow and develop.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Directors: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Writer: Gideon Defoe (screenplay)


Hugh Grant ... The Pirate Captain (voice)
Martin Freeman ... The Pirate with a Scarf (voice)
Imelda Staunton ... Queen Victoria (voice)
David Tennant ... Charles Darwin (voice)
Jeremy Piven ... Black Bellamy (voice)
Salma Hayek ... Cutlass Liz (voice)
Lenny Henry ... Peg Leg Hastings (voice)
Brian Blessed ... The Pirate King (voice)
Russell Tovey ... Albino Pirate (voice)
Anton Yelchin ... The Albino Pirate (voice:US version)
Brendan Gleeson ... The Pirate with Gout (voice)
Ashley Jensen ... The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (voice)
Al Roker ... The Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens (voice: US version)
Mike Cooper ... Admiral Collingwood (voice)
David Schneider ... Scarlett Morgan (voice)

The Pirate Captain's never won the Pirate Prize for capturing the most treasure, but that doesn't stop him from entering and making a laughingstock of himself one more year even if his coffers are empty and he seems to pick the worst possible boats to try and raid. But, good luck comes his way when he robs The Beagle with none other than Charles Darwin onboard. Darwin recognizes The Pirate Captain's fat parrot as the last Dodo bird. With this find, The Pirate Captain can surely win the prize. The only hitch--the competition is in London town and Queen Victoria despises pirates.

As you'd expect, the film's full of merriment, crosses and double crosses, along with a few good yo-ho-hos abound. This is fairly decent children's fare, though the youngest might not understand the humor.

I thought I'd love this film because it comes from the minds who created Wallace and Gromit. Somehow, the humor doesn't quite hold as well for me. Still, the film was a good way to spend a spring afternoon, but I doubt I will be adding it to my collection.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: In the Family

Director: Patrick Wang
Writer: Patrick Wang


Sebastian Banes ... Chip Hines
Patrick Wang ... Joey Williams
Trevor St. John ... Cody Hines
Lisa Altomare ... Betsy
Susan Kellermann ... Marge Hawks
Conan McCarty ... Ed
Harriett D. Foy ... Sharon
Zachary Sayle ... Brent
Georgie DeNoto ... Dennis
Juliette Angelo ... Erin
Eisa Davis ... Anne Carter
Peter Hermann ... Dave Robey
Gina Tognoni ... Nurse Jackson
Kit Flanagan ... Nurse Edwards
Park Overall ... Sally Hines
Kelly McAndrew ... Eileen Robey
Gregory Jones ... Doctor Sills
Elaine Bromka ... Gloria
Julia Motyka ... Rebecca Hines
Zoe Winters ... Helen
Brian Murray ... Paul Hawks
Chip Taylor ... Darryl Hines
Bill Mootos ... Sam
Jake Mosser ... Police Officer
Matthew Boston ... Charles Grant
Michael Scott King ... Security Guard
Christina Hogue ... Cheryl
Eugene Brell ... Jefferson Robinson
Marsha Waterbury ... Court Reporter

How do you define family? Most think of a Daddy, Mommy and a child--maybe a pet or two. In this film, six-year-old Chip has two Daddies. Cody is his birth father. Joey became Cody's partner after Chip's mom died shortly after Chip's birth. That's pretty extraordinary considering the family lives in a small East Tennessee town.

Up until Cody's accident, they're all one big happy family. The in-laws accept Joey and everything's going well. The first signs of dissolution occur after Cody's accident when the staff at the hospital will only talk to "family" and he's excluded from seeing his partner before he dies.

Then, Cody's sister drops the news on Joey that Cody left her as executor of his will six years before. She's got sole custody of Chip.

Six years of raising and loving his little boy are gone. Now, we find out what really defines family.

"In the Family" is the brain-child of Patrick Wang, who had no experience with gay families but like every brilliant writer wanted to stretch himself. He did just that, placing the family in a rural conservative setting with an Asian father.

Mr. Wang believed so much in the story, he financed the film himself. But, please don't ever associate this indie with anything but top-quality. Wang's performance had most of the audience in tears. Sebastian Banes (who was six at the time he played Chip) was spot-on with his lines and so natural with both his Dads you really could believe he was their son. And Trevor St. John played the "heart of the pack" so beautifully you could see why the family unit fell apart without him. So many times, there just was not a dry eye in the house.

What I love about this film is that it clearly depicts the reason why civil marriages are so important for gay and lesbian couples. Too often, the survivor is left with nothing when the family comes to claim what belonged to their blood relation and the law is not on their side. This is a grievous wrong when two people have worked years to build up a home, family, raise children. For these short three hours, we're walking in this family's shoes and seeing the devastation and unfairness of the situation--particularly to young Chip--and it truly does hurt.

One small issue the Knoxville, Tennessee audience had was that the film took place in East Tennessee, but was clearly filmed elsewhere. (Yonkers, New York, actually) Mr. Wang was there along with Park Overall and provided the answer. He was way out of his comfort zone financing, producing and starring in his story and wanted to film on his home turf so he had his own bed to go home to and friends around him. We all pretty much unanimously forgave him.

Oh, and considering the recent "Gateway to Sexual Activity" bill which passed the Tennessee legislature, "hit man" Chip Taylor's music might just become illegal in the state as a "gateway" to gay sex. :) Taylor also played a small role in the film and was the inspiration for young Chip's name.

Yes, "In the Family" was well worth full price. I'd strongly recommend it to fans of indie films and good strong family drama. It's a heartfelt beautiful film which I hope does not go unnoticed in next year's awards.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

Friday, May 4, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: The Avengers

Directed by Joss Whedon

Writing credits:

Zak Penn and Joss Whedon (story)

Joss Whedon (screenplay)

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (comic book)


Robert Downey Jr. ... Tony Stark / Iron Man
Chris Evans ... Steve Rogers / Captain America
Mark Ruffalo ... Bruce Banner / The Hulk
Chris Hemsworth ... Thor
Scarlett Johansson ... Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Jeremy Renner ... Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Tom Hiddleston ... Loki
Clark Gregg ... Agent Phil Coulson
Cobie Smulders ... Agent Maria Hill
Stellan Skarsgård ... Selvig
Samuel L. Jackson ... Nick Fury
Gwyneth Paltrow ... Pepper Potts
Paul Bettany ... Jarvis (voice)

When Loki comes to the Earth to steal the Tessarect so he can create a weapon that will subjugate the population of the Earth, Nick Fury calls S.H.I.E.L.D into active duty to fight back.

The Avengers is the culmination of film a film series which began with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man II, Thor and finally Captain America. You don't have to watch all the previous films in order to enjoy this one, but I personally would recommend it.

The cast assembled from these prior films worked together seamlessly. Sitting in the theater, the whole team seemed real and credible. Samuel L. Jackson is always the ultimate badass, but even the least of the human agents played a pivotal role at a critical moment.

Joss Whedon did his usual incredible job with the story, there were so many lines the whole theater cheered for, it almost felt like I was at a sports event.

There is no pee break in this film, so don't buy the extra-large soda. You'll need it afterward when you've laughed and yelled and generally had a great time through the whole film. The Avengers was one of the best action and adventure films I've ever seen.

This is one of the rare films I'd go back and pay full price to see. I'm definitely adding The Avengers to my DVD collection.

WARNING: Do not leave the theater as the credits begin to roll. There's just a hint of things to come.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Soul of the Band -- Karla Brady

SOURCE: ARC -- author provided

Every teen thinks their Mom is crazy at one time or another, but Brandy Jackson's Mom definitely does have some trouble. With the help of neighbors, Brandy's been coping the best she can, but her Mom finally snaps and Brandy's got to go live with her aunt.

The thing is, Brandy's moving from the hood to suburbia where she's one of the two Black kids in her high school. The one thing that saves her is the band, but being a Junior and not having ever played an instrument, she's stuck with the tuba. The whole band is stuck with a majorette who's in love with show tunes and Cirque de Soleil music.

Brandy's survived crazy, but can she survive bullying and out-and-out racism?

Karla Brady's got a fine hand crafting an urban teen with a whole lot of heart and soul. Brandy seems like a real girl--like one of the friends I had in band or glee club back in high school even.

The scenario's painfully real and one that many Black teens have faced. I believe Soul of the Band is going to be a book that will both help Black teens cope with racism and bullying and help White teens understand what minorities are up against.

One thing you can tell, Karla Brady loves music--all kinds of music. You can hear it through her words and you can feel the beat in her narrative. If music has charms to heal, I think this book may well, too.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, May 2012