‘I am woman, hear me roar!’ New tales of monstrous women to read and watch

original_400_600I was at the library for “Monstress” (more on that later) when I picked up Julia Armfield’s book, “Salt Slow,” on impulse. I had never heard of the author (it’s her first book), and I was pleasantly surprised to discover it’s a collection of feminist fairy tales and ghost stories!

Armfield’s characters are not what they seem; they subtly become sinister, evoking the spirits of old-fashioned monsters from Greek mythology, Grimm’s fairy tales, and classic horror movies, but with an original and modern twist.

A wolf dressed in a pinafore calls to mind an image of the Big Bad Wolf in Grandmother’s nightgown. A woman is visited by her undead lover. City dwellers become a population of insomniacs when they’re separated from their “Sleeps” – wraith-like creatures who take on lives of their own.

Because short stories aren’t usually my thing, they have to be special to be worth my time, and these qualify. One benefit of the medium is that you can enjoy the book in bite-sized pieces, saving the rest of the package for later, instead of finishing it all at once. I savored the stories of “Salt Slow,” and look forward to reading more of her work.

Monstress

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I’m late to this party, but that just means I don’t have to wait for the next installment of this awesome comic, set in a matriarchal world of sorceresses and magical creatures. The title character is Maika Halfwolf, a teenager who is bonded to/possessed by a powerful demon.

monstress-volume-4Maika embarks on a journey of discovery and revenge, and … well, I’m only on Vol. 2 but I like the story so far and will report back when I’m all caught up! I’m trying not to rush through the series.

Written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda, “Monstress” is published by Image Comics, which also publishes two of my other favorite comics, “Rat Queens” and “Saga.” 

Like “Saga,” “Monstress” deals with the big stuff: racism, war, etc. The comic has won several Eisner and Hugo awards, which is not surprising: It has a fresh, original (and grisly) story, and beautiful art.

Volume Four, which collects issues 19 through 24, was published in September.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

“Maleficent,” released in 2014, was a remake of “Sleeping Beauty,” told from the villain’s side of the story. It was clever and beautiful and I loved it. So I ignored the sequel’s score on Rotten Tomatoes, and I’m glad I did.

The new movie is – like the first one – a visual masterpiece, which makes up for the fact that the story is not quite as good as the first.

Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning reprise their roles as Maleficent and Aurora. The sequel picks up a few years after the events of the first film.

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Maleficent is once again maligned/feared/hated, all the old rumors swirling, but this time in the neighboring kingdom of Ulstead, the home of Prince Phllip. Phillip’s mother, the queen, is played by Michelle Pfeiffer.

Phillip has been recast but is about the same level of interesting as the prince from the original. The women are the MVPs here, but I do love Diaval, the loyal man/raven played by Sam Riley in both films. (Perhaps he is the ideal man – one who can be controlled with a snap of one’s fingers!)

There were mixed reviews even among my own party, so I guess this film isn’t for everyone. Maybe you have to be in the right mood, and I was in it. If you could use a dose of girl power, take your daughter, your niece, or your besties, and go see it.

Credits: “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Maleficent,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Salt Slow,” Julia Armfield, Flatiron Books, October 2019; “Monstress,” Image Comics. 

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New LACMA exhibit a must for Guillermo del Toro fans

One great thing about living near Los Angeles is being close to all the cool exhibits at the museums, and one that I did not want to miss was Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Guillermo del Toro is a science fiction and horror writer, director, and producer whose movies include “Pacific Rim,” “Mimic,” “Crimson Peak,” “Hellboy,” “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” “Blade II,” and the Spanish-language films “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” and “Cronos.”

From Guadalajara, Mexico, del Toro now resides in Los Angeles, where he is currently working on a film called “The Shape of Water.” He also is the creator of the FX series “The Strain.”

The collection displayed at LACMA is huge and very impressive. Of course it includes memorabilia from his films – costumes, drawings, notebooks, and props – but it also includes a lot of cool stuff from his collection of art, books, artifacts, and life-sized sculptures of people including Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Harryhausen and several others.

The exhibit is organized by the themes that run through del Toro’s films. The first is “Childhood and Innocence,” and includes props and drawings from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and other items in his collection that pertain to this theme.

Another theme is “Victoriana,” evident in his gothic romance/ghost story “Crimson Peak.” The name of del Toro’s residence Bleak House was taken from a Charles Dickens novel. (And in case you’re wondering, this is a separate house from the one he lives in with his family. This one is just for all his cool toys.)

In the “Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult” section, we learn that del Toro is heavily influenced by the writer H.P. Lovecraft as well as a series he loved as a child called “Man, Myth & Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural.”

A room themed “Movies, Comics, Pop Culture” displays del Toro’s collection of comic books and movie memorabilia. He loves Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel.

Inspired by “Planet of the Apes” (1968), a young del Toro filmed a display of his toy figurines with his father’s Super 8 camera, a pivotal moment: “When I first projected that first Super 8 reel, something happened that was absolutely life changing,” he said.

Del Toro’s self-described “Frankenstein fetish” is evident in the exhibit “Frankenstein and Horror,” an homage to Mary Shelley’s famous monster, as well as other famous movie monsters. “Freaks and Monsters” shows del Toro’s fascination with sideshow “freaks,” and how this influences his work.

There are also areas dedicated to “Death and Afterlife,” lucha libre (Mexican masked wrestling), a recreation of del Toro’s rain room (not to be confused with the other Rain Room at LACMA), and so much more.

 

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters is at LACMA until Nov. 27, and will travel to Minneapolis and Toronto in 2017. For more information, go to http://www.lacma.org/guillermo-del-toro#about-the-exhibition

Photos by EarthToShawna

 

 

Vampires, ghosts, witches, werewolves, and zombies: Fun flicks for Halloween

I’m much more a sci-fi fan than a horror fan. The “scary” movies I like are not very scary. At the theater, I close my eyes at the first few bars of that eerie piano music that tells you you’re about to watch a paranormal movie trailer.
A lot of my favorite Halloween movies are comedies. With that in mind, here are 10 of my favorite ghost, vampire, witch, werewolf, and zombie films to get you ready for All Hallows’ Eve – and to make you laugh.

  1. Beetlejuice. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis star as a recently deceased couple who hire an obnoxious ghost (Michael Keaton) to help them scare away their home’s new tenants (Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, and Winona Ryder).
  2. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. Who doesn’t love these goofy movies with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as scientists fighting supernatural entities like giant marshmallow men, balls of slime and demon gargoyles? I can’t wait for next summer’s reboot.
  3. What We Do in the Shadows. I’ve always been a sucker for vampires – I love “Interview with the Vampire,” “The Lost Boys,” and yes, even dorky “Twilight.” This mockumentary-style horror comedy, written and directed by (and starring) Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, is the story of four vampires who live in New Zealand, and it’s hysterical.
  4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Kristy Swanson was the first cheerleader/slayer and although the TV series that was based on this movie was more popular, I prefer the campy original. And it has Pee Wee Herman, er, Paul Reubens. Luke Perry, David Arquette, Hilary Swank, Rutger Hauer, and Donald Sutherland also star.
  5. Practical Magic. This witchy romantic comedy isn’t super popular, but I like it. It’s an adaptation of Alice Hoffman’s novel of the same name, and stars Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as the nieces of witches played by Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing.
  6. An American Werewolf in London. Another classic, “American Werewolf” tells the tale of two American backpackers who are attacked by a werewolf in England.
  7. Teen Wolf. Would this silly werewolf movie have been so fun to watch if it was anyone but Michael J. Fox? I don’t think so. The new series is more serious, à la Buffy.
  8. Army of Darkness. This is the third in the “Evil Dead” trilogy, and you don’t need to watch the first two to enjoy this one. Bruce Campbell is awesome as Ash, an S-Mart employee who has been sucked into a time portal, winds up in 1300 AD, and has to fight an army of undead. “This is my boomstick!” he tells the villagers, holding up his shotgun. Good stuff.
  9. Shaun of the Dead. This Simon Pegg zombie satire has become a cult classic.
  10. Zombieland. Another great zom com, in which Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone play survivors of a zombie apocalypse. An entertaining, campy adventure.