Posted in Kim's Thoughts, Lit Literature

The Magic of Cornelia Funke

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When it comes to fantasy writers, many people think of talents like J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and more. One of my favorite fantasy authors is Cornelia Funke, a German native with a unique charm to her magical stories. Many of her adventures begin or stay in our world, from Italy to Indonesia. Her child characters act their age and mature when they’re ready. She writes a variety of characters and has even learned from her readers why certain characters or types are important. So far I have had the joy of reading her Inkheart trilogy, The Thief Lord, and Dragon Rider (I’m currently reading its sequel The Griffin’s Feather). I hear wonderful things about her other books, such as her MirrorWorld series, which I intend to find and add to my collection.

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A unique trait in Funke’s fantasies is how grounded they are in our reality. A magical carousel is hidden in Venice, Italy. Dragons moved from Scotland to the Himalayas for their safety. Griffins reside in the Indonesian islands and have secret trades with poachers in exchange for gold. When asked why The Thief Lord is set in Venice, Italy, Funke said, “I wanted to show my readers that there is a magical place in their world that they can actually visit.” I admire her reasons behind this decision and how it carries out in her other works. It really inspires me to travel the world and see it all.

Funke never seems to forget that her characters are children that young readers can connect to. They act their age no matter what comes at them. At thirteen and sixteen, it’s easy to see why Meggie and Farid fall for each other in Inkspell. But they are still young, so of course they can easily get jealous of others and soon drift apart in Inkdeath. All the children of The Thief Lord want to escape pressures and cruelty of adults, but also seek independence. They all support each other like a family. Scipio, the Thief Lord himself, wishes to grow up. He’s like a foil to Peter Pan. Dragon Rider‘s Ben in both books has been exposed to mystical creatures of wonder and terror, and his reactions are all the same. He knows when he is in danger and is rightfully in fear, but he still can’t help but be in awe of whatever creatures he encounters. These are all realistic flaws and characteristics of young children that readers can relate to and learn from.

Writing for readers young and old, reminding us of the magic in our own world, and stretching our imaginations on what we’re capable of.

Characters in Funke’s books range in age, race, and personality. I was amazed when rereading The Thief Lord to find Mosca’s skin described as “beautifully black.” I’ve learned in recent years how important representation is, so to have a main character in a 2000 children’s novel must have been wonderful for young readers at the time. Another important character of color is the Black Prince in Inkspell. He’s a heroic Robin Hood figure praised by his peers for standing up to the wicked Adderhead. The range of activity that female characters partake in these stories has grown over the years. I tweeted my praise for the active women in the Inkheart trilogy and Dragon Rider duology and Funke replied to it! She said “A reader once asked me why there is only one girl in ThiefLord. I never forgot how up set I was when I realized she was right!(sic)” I love how this shows she really listens to her readers and acts to do better in her future work.

A combination of all of these elements can be found in Through the Water Curtain & Other Tales from Around the World. This collection of fairy tales ranges from Japan to Siberia to Vietnam and more. Funke admits to not enjoying fairy tales for the confining lessons they taught to women of their time, but she admires them “For in their imagery of monsters and magical things they preserve many forgotten truths.” The tales she found for this anthology are darker than what you’ll find from Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. Many of the female characters are more active in their destinies and help each other more than you’d expect. While some lessons still praise the women for doing what they’re told, it is like a time machine to see what the standards were for different cultures at different times. It’s a great read, but hard to find. I had to order mine online.

Cornelia Funke is an enchanting fantasy author who deserves more credit. Writing for readers young and old, reminding us of the magic in our own world, and stretching our imaginations on what we’re capable of. Check out any of her books wherever you find them.

Posted in DC, Marvel

That’s Progress! Recent Changes in Super Movies

For something that was once a very niche market, movies based on comic books have changed the cinematic experience as we know it. One of the greatest feats to come from it is the representation for women and minorities. What started as best friends and love interests have evolved into super humans, some of which are taking on the legacies of beloved heroes. Even characters seen one way have been cast by actors that change the comics’ portrayal of them. Small victories have paved way for many actors to get jobs and become role models for even more young kids who can now see they too can be heroes.

It took time to get the representation we have today. Female superhero movies like Catwoman and Elektra failed in their initial releases, but writers didn’t give up on letting women shine. The Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t have a female Avenger until Black Widow was introduced in 2012. Since then, fans have been eager for a solo movie about her. We’re now getting one this year, after introducing the likes of Scarlet Witch and Captain Marvel, who got her own film centered on her first. Netflix took it to series level with Jessica Jones and now Disney+ is following with She Hulk and Wanda Vision. Over at DC, which developed their Extended Universe, Wonder Woman hadn’t been in a movie until Batman v. Superman. She became so beloved by fans that it was no surprise she got her own film and a sequel expected sometime this year. Harley Quinn won hearts in Suicide Squad and soon got her own film in Birds of Prey. This introduced fans to Renee Montoya, Black Canary, Huntress, and Cassandra Cain, all of whom I’m sure we’ll see more of.

Characters of color have also been getting more screen time as the films progressed. Some beloved characters have been cast differently than portrayed in the comics, for the better as it turns out. Everyone loves Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Jason Mamoa as Aquaman/Arthur Curry so much that the comics are adapting to portray their depictions in more stories. It goes to show that casting for performance matters more than casting for accuracy. Fans now can’t see Fury or Arthur as anyone else. Even Wonder Woman is portrayed by an Israeli woman. Birds of Prey, featuring five female leads, has three women of color driving the story forward. Introducing allies like Jim Rhodes/War Machine and Sam Wilson/Falcon paved way for the first black hero led film Black Panther, which went on to win three Oscars. This is groundbreaking as most super films are usually nominated for editing or effects. Black Panther‘s success marks the first Oscar win for Marvel Studios.

A powerful lesson being practiced in these films is how many people can take up the mantle of heroic legacies. This is a central theme in Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, as Miles Morales learns the responsibilities of the title. He meets other Spidermen, like Spider Gwen and Peter B. Parker (who happens to be Jewish), which help him realize what Mary Jane meant when she said anyone can be Spiderman. Avengers Endgame tugged at the heartstrings as an elder Steve Rogers passed his Captain America shield on to his friend Sam Wilson. Disney+ will be exploring this change in their upcoming series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Thor: Love and Thunder will show Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster taking on the role of the Mighty Thor. Fans are realizing there is no longer a single face to go with a heroic name and it shows in recent movies.

Superhero movies have come a long way since Iron Man changed the game in 2008. More women and people of color are proving they deserve to be seen as super. These changes are continuing and shaping the cinematic experience and are more than welcome. Who are some of your favorite supers? Who else do you want to see make their film debut? Leave a comment below!

Posted in Kim's Thoughts

Goblin King Jareth – A Cautionary Tale

Fans of Labyrinth can all agree that David Bowie gave a wonderful performance as the goblin king Jareth. He’s charming, wicked, and funny enough good with children. He’s got a great air of mystery behind him as well. It’s no surprise he has a large fan base of those who would love to take Sarah’s place and stay at his side. However, I personally worry how seriously people believe this. We’re not supposed to want Sarah or anyone to stay with Jareth. People are often blinded by a pretty face and ignore that person’s actions. It’s why people are concerned about fans of Christian Grey or Kylo Ren, or real life criminals like Ted Bundy. When you look at everything he does in the movie, it’s clear that Jareth is a predator. Not even the delightful David Bowie can excuse his actions.

Jareth is introduced in the film as he takes Sarah’s baby brother away at her wish. She’s scared and immediately worries for her brother and wants him back. But the goblin king tells her to forget the baby and go back to her own luxuries. He even offers a crystal of her dreams, which she rejects. Angered by this, he turns the crystal into a snake and throws it at her. Jareth likes seeing Sarah cower before him. He tasks Sarah to solve his labyrinth before he keeps her brother forever.

Lots of nasty looking goblins live among the labyrinth and in Jareth’s kingdom. They ruin Sarah’s marks that keep her on track and try to scare her away. When you see how Jareth treats Hoggle, Sarah’s first true friend, you can infer that he threatens other goblins to obey him or suffer unthinkable consequences. He himself even interferes with her journey directly. He reduces how much time she has left to save her brother and sends a deadly cleaner after her. He’s truly an antagonist set to drive Sarah away. But he somehow wants her to stay as well.

 

Jareth orders Hoggle to give Sarah a peach that he claims is a present. When she eats it, she’s suddenly whisked away to a grand ballroom dance. She’s the youngest one there and is captivated by Jareth who dances with her. It’s a beautifully filmed and costumed scene, but it seems out of place until you think about his intention. He keeps telling her to forget her baby brother and she does after she comes out of the dream. Jennifer Connelly was 15 while filming Labyrinth, so it’s safe to say her character is the same age given how her stepmother treats her. Sarah is encouraged by her stepmother to be going on dates and here she’s dancing with a handsome gentleman. But keep in mind that to get there, Jareth gave her a peach to distract her from her goal. In other words, he drugged a minor.

 

Even when Sarah makes it to the castle, Jareth sends an army to stop her and distracts her with the famous M.C. Escher stair room. In their final confrontation, he says he’s done everything in the labyrinth, from altering time and being frightening, for her. He offers her dreams if she lets him rule her. Fans of Jareth believe he was lonely and seeking love. When Sarah tells her brother the story in the beginning, she states the goblin king had fallen in love with the girl (which we see is her). But through his actions of trying to stop her from saving her brother and scaring her every chance he gets, it’s hard to believe it’s really love. Even his word choice is not a proclamation of love. He says, “Let me rule you.” Remembering that Sarah is old enough to be courted and young enough to be manipulated, we see he doesn’t have her needs in mind. That’s not love. And this is a tragic real world problem as young girls become young women.

Thankfully Sarah knows better. She tells Jareth her will is as strong as his. The final blow is my favorite line in the film: “You have no power over me.” This finally frees Sarah and her brother from the labyrinth and sends them home. She refuses to give in to his demands and maintains her autonomy. This is a remarkable thing to teach young girls, and this movie came out in 1986. Female characters are a source of influence to young girls. If too many female characters are forced to forgive men who have been nothing but rotten to them (an issue many like me have with Rise of Skywalker), girls watching might get the wrong idea about what to do with a bully. But when female characters assert their autonomy and will power over those bullies, girls will watching will know what to do when faced with a bad person. Let’s set an example for those girls and remind them that no man will have power over them.

Posted in Disney, Kim's Thoughts

70 Years of Toad Mania

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When a Disney film reaches a milestone anniversary, the parks will celebrate with limited edition merchandise and experiences. I’m so grateful to have found an acquired some that celebrate the 70th anniversary of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Among the merchandise I collected include a pin of Mr. Toad and his horse Cryil, a plush set of Toad and the Headless Horseman, and a Magicband of Toad, Rat, and Mole. Most recently, Toad has been featured in the Ink and Paint Collection, dedicated to animated features of Walt Disney’s lifetime. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is my personal favorite Disney package film and Mr. Toad himself is among my favorite characters of all time.

Mr. Toad originated from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. He’s a wealthy heir, but spends his money on whatever he’s most interested in. His friends (Rat, Mole, and Badger) call them manias. His most well known mania was for motorcars. Walt Disney adapted The Wind in the Willows in the package film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, a feature film that included The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Package films from Disney were made when Walt wanted to keep his animators busy. Many ideas were formed, but they were too long for a Silly Symphony short and too short for a stand alone feature. This was how we got several random features like Make Mine Music and Melody Time. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is the strongest of them for focusing only on two stories and not several segments. Both stories still hold up and have been released individually and have become successful.

Mr. Toad proved to be popular enough to star in a Disneyland attraction, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. You take Toad’s place in his craze for motorcars and drive manically throughout England. It was an opening day attraction for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The ride is still operating in California, but closed in Florida in the early 2000s. Protests were hosted to save it, but to no avail. His presence remains throughout the parks though. In Magic Kingdom, several Easter eggs are found, from Toad giving the deed to the attraction building to Owl for the Winnie the Pooh ride to Toad’s statue in the Haunted Mansion’s pet cemetery. Even Disneyland Paris has Toad Hall, a quick service restaurant themed after Toad’s estate.

Toad is a very fun character. He’s eccentric and lives for his manias. It does get him into trouble and his friends have to do what they can to protect him. Disney’s version gives him a friend in his horse Cryil, who helps Toad escape from jail in a disguise. His confidence in getting his way is addicting and makes you want to join in his adventures. And you also feel for him when you know he’s innocent for a crime he never committed. The chase at Toad Hall to reclaim the deed is full of clever gags and fun action. I’m glad to see this character is getting the attention he deserves.

Posted in movie review

Right Place, Right Time – Unicorn Store Review

Unicorn Store came out as I had just finished college. I recently saw it again as the coronavirus took a toll on my current employment. This late bloomer coming of age story may seem weird and oddly quirky to some, but it’s something I need lately. Brie Larson truly understands millennials in these current times.

Kit just got kicked out of art school. While wallowing in cartoons, she picks up a temp job to get her parents to take her seriously. A mysterious letter invites her to “The Store,” which promises her she can get a unicorn, her childhood dream. She becomes more invested in what it takes to get her unicorn and questions where she’s going in her life. Her journey gets her thinking of her relationship with her parents and forming meaningful friendships, both in the temp agency and outside work.

Brie Larson directs and stars in Unicorn Store as Kit. To put it frankly, Kit is a mood. She gets into a depression from failing at art school and drowns herself in cartoons and alcohol. Her parents try encouraging her to be like a friend of theirs, but she only sees it as not being enough for them. Kit is the immature young adult we don’t see often in female characters. Women are expected to grow up sooner and have things figured out in their adulthood. Kit’s not like that. She still acts childish, so it’s no wonder she jumps on the opportunity to get her own unicorn.

Samuel L. Jackson costars as the Salesman at The Store. He tells Kit she has to accomplish a certain set of tasks before she’s approved to get the unicorn. She must have a home suitable for a unicorn and feed it well. These tasks introduce Kit to Virgil, who becomes a close friend in her endeavors. The Salesman also tells Kit the unicorn must live in a loving environment, which encourages her to really talk with her parents about their issues. Whether you take the events literally or symbolically, it’s clear that the Salesman is helping Kit get herself together for a better life.

I enjoy stories about the struggles of growing up, but they usually star children wanting to grow up sooner or stay young. It’s refreshing to see this concept applied to young adults. People my age have been associated with nostalgia, living with their parents, and getting the lowest level jobs just for some income. It’s a real struggle that I’m even going through so it’s great to see a millennial in fiction go through the same thing. Unicorn Store is a comforting reminder that adulthood is hard and you just have to keep moving forward to get what you want. If you want something new and earnest, you can find this movie on Netflix.

Posted in 2020, Alex's Personal Favorites, Biographies

What Michael Jordan’s demeanor on the basketball court can teach you. Part 1.

Growing up in the Chicago-land area of the mid to late 90’s was a ecstatic time for Chicago fans.  Having a well celebrated athlete that was also one of the first athletes to truly capitalize on success on the court into other opportunities for himself.  Michael’s most recently brought back into my mindset thanks to a recently aired documentary exploring the athlete’s feats.  The numerous articles and documentaries exploring the exemplary career of the athlete shares several common threads:  Michael understood that every opportunity not taken is a shot missed, success on the court had to also happen off of the court, mastering the fundamentals is a must and lastly success by adapting and trying new things.

If you asked me about Jordan when I was younger during that time, I would’ve told you he was pure magic, which he was, but  my understanding fundamentally of what made him “magic” was more akin to superhuman super power.  Watching him play was purely breath taking.  It doesn’t surprise me his most signature move (one of his many slam dunk moves) was taken as a part of a brand for his sneakers.  When you take a moment to understand the dedicated player, there is a sense of consistency with his varied play style, the surprising explosion of talent.

He took more shot opportunities than his opponents, a good defense is a good offense as they say.  When the opposing team is busy defending you, you have given yourself more opportunity to control the speed of the game.  If you were to examine with a graph just how many opportunistic shots Michael took and the varied locations in the “paint” (which basically means the location of the shot in relation to the basket of the opponent), he made every effort to  make every opportunity and make them count.

Posted in Kim's Thoughts, Lit Literature

Quaran-Read: The Little Prince

In between my studies to become a voice actor and improving my coding skills, I’ve picked up a few books for some light reading. The Little Prince is a novella I had no idea was a classic. I had seen the Netflix movie and loved it, which is one of the quickest ways to convince me to read. The short book is full of charm and deep thoughts on what we value in life.

The Little Prince lives alone on asteroid B 612, tending to volcanoes and caring for his rose. When the rose asks for too much from him, he decides to leave. In his journeys he meets many strange characters, from a conceited man to a silly king to a dreadful businessman. He makes it to earth and forms a friendship with an aviator, who narrates the prince’s journeys to the reader.

The story is simple, but it is full of meaning. The Little Prince questions why a businessman believes he owns the stars, or why a geographer can’t tell him about the land. He finds many of these grown ups odd and confusing. It almost challenges the reader to question why they do certain things in their adulthood. Is there any meaning to our work? Or is it just expected from us? This is best shown with the lamplighter, who only lights his lamp because it’s the rules. He used to enjoy it, but circumstances changed while his job didn’t adapt to the changes. It’s sad how this reflects minimum wage jobs in our time.

Before the prince meets the aviator, he found a bush of roses and felt his rose back home was suddenly common. He befriends a fox who explains that his rose is always special because it was his rose. Likewise, the fox and prince are special to each other because they took the time to “tame” each other. When you share your love with others, nothing or no one is “just a boy” or “just a fox.” Before the prince leaves to continue his journey, the fox offers him advice, which could be the message of the novella:

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Whether it’s in our relationships with others, our talents and passions, or our faith in the unknown, this message is powerful. And it feels needed in these uncertain times. So while you’re home in quarantine, think of what is essential to you. How can you share your love with what matters to you? The Little Prince is much more than a “growing up makes life boring” children’s story. It’s a reminder of what’s important in life and how to cherish it.