BFS Recommends: Angela Melick and Wasted Talent

Because Jam is "tha very bessst!"

Because Jam is “tha very bessst!”

Straight behind my love of the written word is my love of visuals: photographs, movies, drawing, painting, and… comics/graphic novels. In writing, there’s little better than an author’s distinctive voice, which adds another layer to the story or narrative of the piece, moving it beyond mere information. With comics and graphic novels, the artist’s renderings add a whole other dimension to the ideas being communicated, whether they are laugh-out-loud hilarious or profoundly insightful. I’ve loved this ever since I started reading Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes, and this love has only deepened as I’ve discovered so many wonderful artists in the webcomic community.

One of my favorites (which my wonderful wife, Jessica, introduced me to) is Wasted Talent, which is written and drawn by Angela Melick, also known by the nickname Jam. You’ve been introduced to her work already. See, over there? On the right side of the screen? I lucked out and commissioned an avatar by Jam, and you can see the wonderful added dimension her drawing and coloring style bring to her work (she is really good at Viking beards, too, since she drew one of her husband and a truly epic hockey playoff beard before she drew mine).

In her online archives, it’s also a true joy to see her rougher beginnings in black and white ink, her uses of color as her ability deepened, and her style shiftings as she found her own artistic voice. Whether she’s making use of markers or watercolors (or a mix of the two), Jam’s style is now something that is uniquely her own, though there are definitely anime/manga influences. **

Jam’s commitment to excellence and desire to push her abilities are also things any writer or artist can learn from (and be inspired by). While working full time as an engineer, she practices her art regularly above and beyond her weekly comic for Wasted Talent, tries out different comic forms (she has some travelogues and other short comics), and also pushes herself whenever she publishes Wasted Talent in book form. When publishing her earlier drawings in We Are the Engineers! (her first book), she went back and redrew them all, showing how much she had grown over a few years of honing her craft.

But what truly seems to drive the thriving vitality of Wasted Talent and Jam’s work is humanity at its best: joy and love. Wasted Talent is an autobiographical comic, so while Jam generally aims for a humorous take on life, she doesn’t hide from its ups and downs, whether it’s a lost job, the pains of a job search, a desire for something more from life, or the almost annual trip to the hospital for her or her husband, thanks to the broken bones mountain biking seems to encourage.

I’ll take the humor, though, whether it’s this wonderful malapropism of “for all intents and purposes,” a bit of everyday silliness, or a scene that seems right out of my own household. Seriously, if you ever want to know what my marriage is like (and I know everyone was wondering about that), you can get it within the pages of Angela Melick’s work.

*coughs*

Or you can just read it for Jam’s wonderful take on working and living.

**I’ll also note that the original of that last watercolor example is proudly displayed on our wall: it’s a perfect synergy of Jam’s artistic and comedic capabilities.

On the Importance of the Moment and the Memory

For the past four years, Ari Fleischer (former press secretary to George W. Bush) has tweeted the events of 9/11, as he witnessed them. It even looks like he tweets them at about the same time as they happened in 2001, helping bring back the day as it unfolded.

Important memories and historical moments have a tendency to calcify, to lose dimension or gain a sense of inevitability as we forget how things went (or as we lean toward one interpretation of how those things went). Fleischer’s tweets bring back the chaos of the day and the emotion, the leaping to conclusions and second guessing we were doing even then. I don’t recall Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings criticizing Bush for not returning to Washington DC sooner, for instance.

As 2001 recedes further and further into the past it becomes more important to recall the specific moments of the day and to re-examine our memory. In three short years, the freshman I teach in college won’t have been alive then.  It might be impossible to keep “9/11” from becoming a rote (or even forgotten) phrase like December 7th, 1941, “Remember the Maine,” or “Remember the Alamo,” but it’s something we all have to push back against.

That’s the importance of story and history–to give meaning to other people and other lives.


Farewell to a Fellow Dreamer… 2 comments

© 1971 - Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

© 1971 – Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

People use “one of a kind” too much. “Unique” as well (see Strunk & White, who remind us that unique shouldn’t need a modifier). But in many ways, Gene Wilder is one of those we’re not likely to see again. Certainly he was in the upper echelons of great comedians–the man was hilarious, his timing and energy infectious, elevating so many of his roles to a point that not many else could (his delivery in this bit cracks me up every time). But there are a lot of comedians and comedic actors out there who are also able to tickle the funny bone. There’s something more to Wilder than “merely” the capability of making us laugh.

What I’m getting at is perhaps best exemplified by one of Wilder’s most famous roles as Willy Wonka. He has a whole range of seeming non sequiturs throughout the film, but one of the best is when Veruca Salt, one of the children on a tour of Wonka’s factory, objects that there is no such thing as snozzberrys–what they’re eating can’t possibly have snozzberry flavor. Wonka/Wilder responds with the first two lines of a poem by Arthur O’Shaughnessy (“Ode”):

“We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams.” (short clip here)

Beyond the humor, beyond the delight at confuzzling one of the bratty kids who won a tour of the most amazing chocolate factory ever, is something that is ineffable and serious at the same time. Why is your thinking so locked down, kid? Why are you so limited? Dream big (good lord, you’re tasting flavored wallpaper, after all)!

Wilder doesn’t just deliver it like a throwaway line, either, something for quick laughs (which many might do). He believes it, heart and soul, and this belief is resonating from his eyes.*

And while not every line of Wilder’s many roles convey such depth, it’s what I will remember about him. It’s important to laugh in the moment, but it’s just as important to be a dreamer of dreams.

*What eyes the man had, too. He was one of those that always seemed to be seeing something greater.

BFS Reviews: The Samurai by Shusaku Endo 2 comments

Many of the initial readers of The Samurai focused on its sense of adventure, where a low-ranking Japanese samurai (think knight, for those of you less familiar with medieval Japan) travels to Mexico, Spain, and ultimately even Rome in the hopes of developing trade between Japan and Spain.

And who can blame them? Adventure tales are adored for good reason—oceans are traveled, mountains are crossed, rivers are forded—they grab hold whether every pebble passed is described in delightful detail or whether whole swathes of the journey are memorably glossed, like an Indiana-Jones-style-line traversing a colorful map.

The stakes are also high in this historical adventure: in early 17th century Japan, the low-ranking samurai and three other envoys are ordered by their feudal lord—the Shogun—to voyage to Nueva España (Mexico) to open trade relations between Japan and Spain. This goal is more difficult to achieve than first surmised, however, and the envoys journey to Spain and even Rome before they can begin to return home. In the meantime, tumultuous seas, harsh deserts, Indian uprisings, and political machinations have to be endured, all made worse by their dependence on their translator, a wily Franciscan monk who may or may not have their best interests in mind.

Now, it can’t be denied that this is one appeal of The Samurai, but selling it as an adventure tale only captures a portion of it. While there is pageantry and drama to spare in a journey that takes years to finish, the real strength of The Samurai lies in its focus on the individual.

The novel’s main character, the titular samurai, is the overlord of a tiny fiefdom of three villages, surrounded by marshland. Lesser writers would struggle with making such a man’s life interesting, yet Endo makes Hasekura Rokuemon’s existence beautiful in its desolation. Rokuemon looks like the peasants that work in the three villages he rules, and he works just as hard as they do—he is not one of those idle samurai with time to paint or write poetry. The only music is that which can be found in a harsh life of labor:

It began to snow. Until nightfall a faint sunlight had bathed the gravel-covered river bed through breaks in the clouds. When the sky turned dark, an abrupt silence ensued. Two, then three flakes of snow fluttered down from the sky. As the samurai and his men cut wood, snow grazed their rustic outfits, brushed against their face and hands, then melted away as if to underscore the brevity of life.

Endo’s writing consistently reminded me of Japanese woodcuttings and paintings, with their clear black lines and sharp colors that imprint even simple scenes with a vividness that cannot leave the eye.

All too soon, Rokuemon is torn away from this world that he cherishes, leaving his ailing uncle, wife, and small children behind. While the ache of this never leaves Rokuemon, it is tempered with the joys he takes in the journey—the broad expanses of the sea, the tableaus and cacti of Nueva España, the immense cathedrals of Spain itself—all are colored by the simple delight Rokuemon takes in the them.

Nor is simple a derogatory adjective when applied to Rokuemon. While he wishes he were wily and canny, like one of the other envoys (or the Shogun, who sent him on the diplomatic mission), he knows he isn’t. All he can offer his steadfastness, his loyalty, his ability to work.

The beauty of the samurai’s simplicity and steadfastness is heightened all the more by being surrounded by schemers. It’s unclear if the Shogun truly wishes to establish trade relations and encourage Christianity (which he has recently begun to persecute), or whether he wishes to gain something else from the mission. And while the Franciscan monk who accompanies the envoys is aware of this possible duplicity, he is also willing to go along with it, all for the sake of Japan’s soul: if Christianity can only take root, it will be worth it.

This Franciscan monk, Father Velasco, is the other individual at the heart of the novel. Like the samurai, he comes from a warrior’s family, but unlike the samurai, he is a cunning manipulator. He truly wishes to help Japan, but his mind and ego constantly get in the way of his more noble intentions. He needs to be the one to save the Japanese, not the rival order of the Jesuits. He is the only one who understands the Japanese and can lead them to salvation, no one else.

If Rokuemon is made wonderful by his honest simplicity, Velasco is made relatable by this struggle. He is consistently told by church leaders that there is no hope for Japan—the Shogun most certainly will continue to persecute Christians, as he has been for the past several years. But Velasco won’t give up; he feels responsibility for all the Japanese Christians and martyrs. He has faith where other church leaders do not, and his belief continues while the Pope falters in the face of international politics and declines to pressure Spain into trading with Japan (or continue to send missionaries to Japan). While Velasco’s actions are at times tainted by pride, faith is at their root, not sin.

These two individuals—samurai and priest—eventually find themselves united in their faith against the mammoth institutions they represent. After years of traveling for his Shogun, Rokumon returns to Japan to find Christianity wholly outlawed. Unfortunately (or not so unfortunately?), he was baptized in Spain, for the sake of his mission and his Shogun. As a result, he is viewed with greater and greater suspicion by the authorities, no matter why he became a Christian.

That’s the great tragedy as well—he didn’t particularly believe in Christianity during his journey. He couldn’t understand how people could worship a broken man on a cross. That man wasn’t noble or lordly, like the Shogun. But in his persecution, he begins to understand and believe. The Shogun doesn’t understand or care for him, nor do the other high-ranking samurai who express sympathy for Rokuemon’s situation but do no nothing else. They aren’t the ones who are eventually jailed or executed.

As for Velasco, he ignores the orders of the Pope and returns to Japan, fully aware he could be executed for preaching there. Inevitably, he is captured, and he learns of Rokuemon’s execution before being martyred himself: it is a seemingly bleak ending, looking at those facts. But in the willingness of these two to go against the inertia of their respective leaders and organizations, it is a moving picture of hope.

The Samurai is one of the best evocations of faith I’ve read from an author of the modern era, but even if this doesn’t appeal to you, Shusaku Endo’s portraits of these two very human individuals should. As this world of ours is more and more characterized by its monolithic institutions that too easily forget the people that make them up, this novel’s embrace of that which makes us human is something all the more to value.


Writing Progress Update 8/24/16: When to Revise

Photo credit: crdotx via Foter.com / CC BY

As promised in my opening post, here’s what I created and worked on last week:

  • A couple of blog posts (one a review, which I’ll post in the next day or so)
  • Tweaks to a finished story so it was short enough for a submission (it was just a shade over a 4k word limit)
  • Story submissions to a few magazines (this is writing work too… otherwise I avoid it)
  • These tweaks helped break the ice for me to keep revising a story I’ve been working on with fantastic elements

That last bullet is the important one. I want to keep the blog going and it helps keep me in the writing game, but I need to get back on my fiction. And that story has also been one of the things I’ve been avoiding, and I need to stop doing that.

Sometimes it can help to sit on a story that is frustrating you when you just aren’t sure how to deal with it, coming back to it when you have the desire to fix its issues (on some levels with writing, you have to want to say something, as Fitzgerald argues for here). But at some point, you just have to deal with the thing–otherwise it’ll never happen.

And I so want this story to happen. It’s my first story that has a clear fantastic element to it. Even better, it’s something of a Ray Bradbury-esque story, where one change from our normal reality makes for terrific and even disturbing insight (like “The Veldt”). I love stories with fantastic elements, but it turns out that a lot of my ideas have just been straight realism so far–for whatever reason that’s just how it’s worked out. I had this idea during my first semester working on my MFA (three years ago!), and I had to start working on it right when I got home, I was so excited about it. I had a great first draft and revised it well that first semester, but then I had to leave it behind while working on other projects.

So yeah… finishing it would be a great milestone for me. The difficulty is that it’s like 95% of the way there, with some really tricky tweaks needed to make its main character and his situation work as they need to. I’ve been tossing and turning on how to make those tweaks, which has led to avoiding it. They’re just not going to happen without me looking into the story and digging into it, though.

That’s me and what I’ve been working on. What have you been creating this past week? How have you been connecting with the world, rather than avoiding it?


On Rejection, Dejection, and That Far-Off Horizon 1 comment

Photo credit: netlancer2006 via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: netlancer2006 via Foter.com / CC BY

As I’ve heard from more than a few other people, it’s been something of a long year. “Please stop the world, I’d like to get off” is an altogether easy sentiment to agree with. The headlines more often than not are full of death and dark things, and the common response is to draw in, to huddle on yourself and lose sight of all that hurts.

Or to lash out.

But as a favorite musician of mine says, “You’ve already been here before, you already know where it goes.”* Because when you go fetal, when you restrict your point of view to the small space you will allow under your protecting arms, there is only the downward spiral. The same goes for the tunnel vision of anger—so many open avenues are lost to sight and the anger only builds upon itself.

I’ve never been much of the lashing out type. It takes quite a bit to get me going, like a bully at one summer camp that kept flicking my fellow cabinmates and me with a rubberband while we tried to sleep, or the neighbor kids that were filling their snowballs with ice and hitting my younger brother with them.

My tendency is to draw in, to huddle in on myself. Which leads to far too much inaction, sadly enough. And over the past eight months, I have spent too long debating whether working on a blog again is worthwhile, whether it was simply a shouting into a vast cacophony where no one else will ever hear me.

Then there is my fiction writing, which I worked on every day of the week (with only occasional, short pauses) for three straight years before working on and earning my MFA over two years. Despite trying not to, I still hit that dry patch so many do after completing their creative writing degree, a combination of overwork from those four fast-paced semesters (while I was teaching full time) and a heavy teaching load.

But I’m well past that and any valid excuses for why I’ve only been occasionally working on stories for the past year. So what’s the problem? Why can’t I do what I was doing before?

Part of it’s the rhythm. When you get yourself used to writing every day (or at certain times throughout the week), you feel weird when you don’t. I’d actually get a bit grouchy when I didn’t work, like a caffeine addict without a needed daily dose of java. On top of that, though, is that I’m tired of rejections. I know how hard it is to be published (I read for magazines myself), but it’s difficult not to feel a weariness when another form response arrives in the mailbox (or the inbox)… even the notes that compliment the submission and aren’t just the standard rejection don’t give a thrill like they used to. The rejections that particularly hurt are the ones that take a matter of days to turn you down. I don’t want them to take over a year to get back to me (which has happened!), but yeesh, at least let me feel good about the submission for a couple weeks. It might be silly, but having the work out there feels good—you’re at least trying.

And that’s what is stupid about all this foot dragging: I know how to combat this weariness I’ve been dealing with. The only thing that keeps you going is to keep creating, to keep offering stories to magazines (and querying agents). Because 100% of the things not submitted are not published, as they say—no matter how lame that sometimes sounds when you’re swimming the gray-dark sea of rejection—and you’re also not just in this for some magazine to publish your stuff. Yes, you want to share it, you want others to read it. But you’re writing because you have something to say. It doesn’t matter how loud and full of voices media and society seem to be—there are things not being noticed, things not being valued, and you need to stand up for them, to let them have their moment in the sun.

So here’s what this blog is going to be. As best I can, I’m going to make it a brighter spot on the internet, no matter how small a nook it occupies, no matter how few readers it collects. I’m going to talk about writing and stuff that I think is important (nature and education and art and living and laughing and so much else), but I’m also going to review books, movies, and maybe even games, because that’s what I’m into. But when I do it, I’m not going to be one of those people that seem to revel in finding the nastiest ways to put down a creative effort.

No, I’m not going to avoid pointing out shortcomings in what I’m reviewing, but I’m going to do my best to be generous, to see what the creator was trying to do. And appreciate it for that. It is possible, no matter how much the snark out there on youtube and reviewing sites makes it seem like it can’t be done.

More, I’m going to do my best to point out the good things I’m seeing in the world—be it what people are doing, saying, creating, or something in the natural world itself. Maybe things that people are even missing.

And I’m going to share what I did with my writing every week. Maybe it’ll lead me to share something interesting about the process, maybe I’ll just say “this week was terrible and needed to be done on Monday, but at least I got this story finished.” And that will be okay, because I’ll be reminding myself and anyone that cares to notice that it’s worth trying, that it’s worth keeping your eyes on the far off, hopeful horizon and avoiding the downward spiral of depression and hate.

*Thank you, Dessa, for that line. Mineshaft 2 is all too applicable here as well.

BFS Reviews: Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

much_adoJoss Whedon has this weird way of going about making movies and TV shows. On the one hand, he’s known in the big networks and studios for success stories like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and last summer’s The Avengers (or “shows that shouldn’t have been canceled so soon” like Firefly that can make some fans perennially sigh over what might have been if the show had kept going). But on the other hand, he does stuff like… make some kind of movie broken into two parts during a writer’s strike (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a strange but endearing mixture of superheroes with musical, drama, romance, and tragedy). More, he can make this kind of thing work, as that odd, two-part movie grew into an internet sensation that’s followed as much as anything made by a major network.

And now he’s made a production of Much Ado About Nothing. Apparently Whedon has an amazing house and regularly invites actors and actresses to come out and perform a Shakespeare play. Why not? I probably would too, if I had a fabulous house and was a director. To add to the fun, this time around he’s made a film out of this practice. He chose a fine play to do this with, as Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s best comedies (for the uninitiated, a Shakespeare comedy means there’s going to be lots of fun, humor, and romance, but… there’s going to be a fair amount of heartache as well: the travails of Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life have nothing on what Shakespeare will put his comedic characters through).

I’ll be up front and say that Joss Whedon had to win me over with this one. I like a lot of his work and it sounded like this adaptation was pretty good, but… I love Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 adaptation of this play: it’s what won me over to Shakespeare at a young age. Sure, it’s got some weird moments and Keanu Reeves… cannot do Shakespeare to save his life, but it is otherwise excellent. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson are razor sharp witty in their roles as the two lovebirds that refuse to believe they are lovebirds, and they are excellently juxtaposed against the two lovebirds that very much know they are lovebirds, played by Robert Sean Leonard and Kate Beckinsale. To cap things off, Michael Keaton is hilarious as the hapless constable, Dogberry.

So I’ll admit I didn’t completely click with some elements of the movie. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker were good fun as Beatrice and Benedick, but… they just couldn’t speak it and act it like Branagh and Thompson did, particularly early on (though let’s face it, those two are heavyweights in the acting world). Still, they began to spark more for me as the other characters in the story try to draw them together. The closely paired scenes where Benedick and Beatrice learn that the other loves them (or so they are led to believe as they eavesdrop on their friends…) are as entertaining as I’ve seen in any production. Benedick’s sudden attempts to look sexy for Beatrice are as amusing to watch as junior highers at a school dance (so much awkwardness rolled up in so much sincerity). The pair isn’t all humor, either: Whedon closes the movie with a shot focusing solely on them, an indescribably romantic moment.

That said, the standouts among the actors are undoubtedly Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk as the constable Dogberry and his assistant, Valence. In Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation, Michael Keaton plays Dogberry hilariously over the top with growls and mannerisms reminiscent of his role as Beetlejuice. Nathan Fillion, on the other hand, is openly and honestly sincere in his ineptitude (though he still manages to save the day, of course). Both performances are completely varied but completely hilarious. It highlights the strength of any good play–and book for that matter–the stories and characters can be great no matter how many times you revisit them.

But what seals the deal is the cinematography and the music. Whedon went from directing a superhero summer Hollywood blockbuster–with all the big action shots that implies–to using steady, fixed shots and vivid black and white cinematography in this film. There’s some versatile directing for you. Of course, he’s filming a location he knows quite well–his own gorgeous house with a spectacular view–but he uses that knowledge to maximum effect. Joss also enlisted the aid of his brother, Jed, and his wife Maurissa Tauncharoen, to perform a couple of the songs from the play (this duo were responsible for the catchy tunes in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog). Both songs are a clean and engaging fit with the modern setting Whedon chose for the play, and I wish a movie from earlier this summer, The Great Gatsby, had done so well with matching its music to its story.

In the end, there are things not to like in Whedon’s production of Much Ado, but this is no different from any other Shakespeare production I’ve seen (or heard commented on). For theatrical afficianados, every new production of a play can offer new delights and interpretations–even small, classroom productions–and this is a good thing in the end. Even better, Whedon’s production offers many new things to delight in.


Movie Previews: AKA What You Know Going Into a Story

3d_glassesThey’re everywhere. They’re in commercials and they’re all over the internet. They keep the movie you’re about to watch from starting for 15-20 minutes (unless you’re smart and show up 15-20 minutes late, like a certain Viking and Celt enjoy doing). And sometimes, previews do what they’re supposed to do, getting you excited about an upcoming movie. Frequently, though, you can wonder who put the darn thing together.

Like those stupid trailers that basically tell you the whole plot of the movie. Even if a story isn’t ruined for you if you know how it ends (there are apparently people like this–though I didn’t know there were until I met the Celt), this is just about the laziest way possible to make a preview. Cliffs Notes for the win, right? Because everyone reads those things because they’re entertaining…

Oh, and this approach forgets that a preview is supposed to be a preview… not a synopsis. Like this trailer I unfortunately saw once for Nicholas Sparks’s Safe Haven. You of course know what you’re in for with Nicholas Sparks, but come on. I know how the whole thing is going to go! What makes this even more annoying is that plot-focused trailers take the focus off the acting and the, you know, other important things that make a movie good. Plot’s nice and all, but it’s not the only thing to a story (although I will admit that the Safe Haven trailer does show off some well done cinematography).

The other thing to hate in trailers these days (or maybe the past ten years?) is how frenetic they can be. Of course, this style of trailer is common because studios want to build tension and a desire to see the story (and my heart can kind of go out to the editors that have to put these things together), but almost all of them throw a billion shots together in an effort to build up some kind of tension. This has even carried over into the action shots in movies themselves, and the result is more often a seasick mess than an actual, tension-filled moment.

Hmmm, that’s been a lot of complaining… so what do you like, Mr. Big Frickin’ Swede? Well, you pulled it out of me: I’ll tell you after the break.

(more…)


BFS Reviews: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

dragonOkay, so… I got a little excited two weeks ago when the Celt found a preview for How to Find Your Dragon 2. A little. I might have been a little un-Swedish. But here’s why.

Trying to tell a story that draws in adults and younger folk isn’t as easy as some think (both critics and creators). You can’t get too stupid (or adults AND kids will hate it), and you can’t get too cerebral or the kids (and let’s face it, many adults) will hate it. But How to Train Your Dragon finds this balance point and soars away with it.

The crazy thing about it is that this movie kind of snuck its way into the movie landscape. Unlike Pixar films that are fanfared and publicized well in advance (a very small teaser trailer for Brave was out at least a year before it hit the screens), I didn’t hear of this one until I saw a trailer a mere couple of months before it was released. And rather than try to give us the whole plot of the movie, the trailer did what the trailer released for its sequel did last week: evoke a feeling.

It’s essentially the moment seen in the poster in the upper right, but better. Dragons (and this dragon in particular) in the movie have up until now been unknown and powerful and dangerous–tapping into centuries of storytelling that have made dragons touchstones of mystery and magic. But, this moment posits, what if you could reach out and actually touch that mystery… and while you were doing that, what if that mystery decided it wanted to reach out to you as well?

Wow.

And this undercurrent is felt throughout the movie. Sure, there are some moments that are more kiddie or more obvious than I’d like (I wasn’t quite sure at first what to make of the voiceover used in the opening), but these shortcomings are buoyed by the undercurrent of magic and mystery, and completely erased by the strong story. We understand why Hiccup–the boy in the poster–reaches out to the dragon, but we also know what this is going to cost him personally. Dragons and humans just don’t mix, it’s been made clear, and there will be repercussions.

Another fine element of the film is that the adults are allowed to be smart. What a concept, I know, but one thing Roger Ebert frequently noted in the last couple of years (I am really going to miss reading that man’s reviews…) is how often adults are made to be stupid when kids or teens are the protagonists of a movie. But in How to Train your Dragon, Hiccup’s father has feelings that are clearly understood and valued just as much as Hiccup’s. He’s not one dimensional, either, changing in reaction to the events of the story: just as Hiccup is allowed to change. True, the adults can be silly at times, but so can the kids (and this movie knows when it needs to be silly and when it needs to be serious).

The movie doesn’t stop imploding typical Hollywood fare there, either. Its characters often aren’t… pretty. Stoick the Vast (Hiccup’s father) is a big, beefy Viking warrior in the classic sense. He doesn’t have slabs of muscle Hollywoodily stacked on top of more slabs of muscle. His arms are thick but not defined, and also clearly strong–not unlike some arms you’ll actually see in the real world. And his skin… his skin is a bit pale and freckled and ruddy, not unlike some other people you’ll see in the real world. How strange to see a bit of real proportion in a cartoon, eh?

So, this movie knows how to be real, knows when it needs to get serious, and knows when it needs to fly (something its upcoming sequel seems to be remembering as well). Not every movie knows how to do that, so it’s a real treat when one does–if you haven’t seen this one already, you should.


I Don’t Think You Know What a Reservation Is…

When you take a trip, particularly an airline trip, it’s common to be nervous. I’m sure there are some travelers out there that don’t have imaginations like the Celt and I do, who soldier through airports and car rental lines like nothing bad will happen, but, by golly, I have to believe they’re few and far between.

There’s a reason this Seinfeld clip is funny. Because it’s true, and it happens.

Reservations get lost, people. Airplanes get over-booked, airplanes break down, car rental companies accuse you of damaging a car you did not damage (*ahem* that’s a story for another time), you name it. It happens. And boy, did it happen to us, almost two weeks ago. The Celt and I were traveling to Vermont and… *shudders* so much happened. So very much.

First, we got up at 3 in the morning, because the airlines charge you a little less of an arm and a leg if you fly before even morning birds are winging from tree to tree and singing. Then, we stood in the fog, waiting for a cab that kept not arriving, even though I had made a reservation a few days before for an early pickup. Why? They had misplaced the reservation, they said (see Seinfeld clip above for the second time). Then we waited some more for a cab that was “on its way,” waiting and waiting as our flight time grew closer and closer and as we grew more and more nervous. Just when I was about to go get our car and drive to the airport–outrageous airport parking fees or no–our taxi arrived. Squealing tires through the fog and fifteen or so minutes later, we arrived, just when they were boarding. But we made it, and what more could go wrong…

Right?

Oh, but our plane in Chicago had a mechanical failure, so we sat for an hour while they investigated and fixed. The Celt and I kept calm, read books, tried to ignore the cramped nature of ever-shrinking plane seats and leg room. And luckily, they fixed the plane and we made it to Vermont’s Burlington airport. We had made it, and what more could go wrong…

Right?

We approached the car rental counter with some nervousness (Seinfeld clip reference #3), but surprisingly enough, nothing amiss here. The line was short, the reservation was ready to go, and we had a nice, little red Toyota Yaris to drive (admittedly a little clown-carish when you saw a Big Frickin’ Swede get into it). I had driven through the area before and we had printed out directions, so we were home free. We ate and then enjoyed the gorgeous Vermont mountain views as we drove to Montpelier. The B & B stay was going to be no problem. I had talked to the owner many times in March and we had made a large deposit on our stay. We were home free for the two weeks, right?

Wrong! *laughs sadly, deprecatingly* So wrong, Mr. Big Frickin’ Swede. So wrong.

No one was at the B & B when we arrived. No one. There was a note for current people staying and a cell phone to call, but the husband that it belonged to did not pick up (the B & B is run by a husband and wife team, of sorts). Backtrack from the country outskirts of Montpelier to somewhere we could get wifi and find some more numbers to call. Finally reached the wife, who was out of state and told us… they didn’t have our reservation listed. Oh, she could remember me from all our discussions in March, but she just didn’t have the reservation listed anywhere (Seinfeld clip reference #4).

Long story somewhat short, they stuck us in another room that night (not the one we had reserved, someone else was in it. …Seinfeld clip reference #5). The Celt and I were panicking, since all the hotels and B & Bs in the area were very, very full, and we didn’t particularly care for how this was going. The husband returned later that night and assured us they would make everything right, as “This has never happened to us before!”

Despite these assurances, they kept talking about how we could stay with them for the whole two weeks, but there would be some nights (okay, every night for a week) where they would have to move us to other rooms in the B & B and two NON-consecutive nights (!) where they wanted us to stay at another B & B because they were booked fully. You know, with people that made reservations after we had (is this really Seinfeld clip reference #6? Egads).

This continued over three days, thanks in part to the wife being out of town (and wanting to play hardball) and her being the one that runs the show and the husband trying to appease us whenever we talked to him. Three days, while I reminded them of my reservation for one room for a whole two weeks (#7). And I reminded them of the massive deposit I had made back in March for one room for two whole weeks (#8). Finally, finally they did the right thing and let us stay in the one room I had reserved (#9), something that was a little essential since 1) we were on vacation for part of our stay and 2) I was attending classes for my degree and the Celt was doing her own coursework online: we couldn’t be moving all over and into rooms that didn’t have anywhere to study.

At the end of our two weeks, the husband said he’d love to have us stay again… after charging us the rate quoted to me back in March (this rate despite our staying in a smaller, cheaper room our first night and having to deal with all the junk they put us through… oh, and Seinfeld clip reference #10!)

Did I mention I was sick for the last week of our stay, coughing and hacking and trying to breath while staying at this place and going to class?

Yeah, it’s good to be back home.