Point of Exquisite Suspension

Ramblings, musings and postings about thoughts & life experiences of a graphic artist living in the Chicago area.

28 October 2014

Fury: Movie Review

Illustration created with brush markers and white color pencil on Post-it Note and color adjusted with OS 8 photo filters. © 2014 by O. Douglas Jennings

I came into the theater to watch the film Fury with the personal agenda of wanting to connect with the experiences of my late dad (d.1993) who was a WWII vet (82nd Airbourne). All the while I was growing up, he often seemed to me to be haunted by his war experience. As I watched the movie, I felt that, through the eyes of the young recruit, Norman, I could understand, in small measure, what my dad might have went through as a soldier immersed in war. Dad was 18 when he entered the war and would have been 23 by the time the events in Fury take place. He wouldn't have been as green as the young man in the movie by that point. But I have the sense that the traumatic events and transformation experienced by Norman in the time frame of the film incapsulate the overall war experience of my dad to some extent.

Even though my personal predisposition to identify with the story might have favorably skewed my impressions, I think the film was excellent. I would rank it as high in quality with one of my all-time favorite films, Unforgiven. Fury showed the brutality of war yet also it's humanity. It had tremendous heart and great performances by Brad Pitt and the other actors with captivating onscreen chemistry between them. 

It's likely that a target audience for Fury is baby boomer children of WW2 vets. I've read reviews by younger film buffs and they feel the story is not as cohesive as it should have been. But my take, as I watched and remembered the few war stories my dad reluctantly told me over the years, was that this fictional account of a brutal war rang true and held the narrative well.

29 September 2014

The Last Unicorn on Tour: Chicago Screening



The Music Box Theater in Chicago is a true vintage treasure of old-time movie nostalgia. With live organ music playing splendid show tunes, just as in the days of silent films, my two daughters and I chose a perfect trio of fold-down, red-velvet cushioned seats (wooden arm rests, no cup holders) in the second row. We were all excited with anticipation to see The Last Unicorn. It's a childhood favorite of my daughters, Emily and Melody (now in there twenties) and a longtime favorite of mine since I had originally read the book in my teens in the early 70s.

Our excitement has dampened by the realization that we had to sit through both a question-and-answer period and a raffling off of books, posters and assorted memorabilia. The crowd was full of dedicated, ecstatic fans. Some were dressed in costumes of a medieval nature if not of characters in the story. I wouldn't claim to be that kind of fan. Neither were my daughters who, like me, really just came to see the movie on a big screen and be swept away by the cinema experience. But the Q&A had high points. I and audience was to discover that Peter S. Beagle had met Marilyn Monroe when he was 15 years old as they were both guests of a mutual acquaintance (a literary agent who knew Ms. Monroe's then husband Arthur Miller). Beagle regaled us with talk of his lucky breaks and the gradual creation of his most acclaimed book. All this was interesting but I really just wanted to see the movie.




I had met author Peter S. Beagle at Chicago Comic Con a few years ago. He and his promoter Connor Cochran were placed at tables across from a Star Wars 501st Storm Trooper Legion (a very popular group). Still unpacking their books and merchandise, they were, amazingling enough, receiving no lines of fans or admirers at that particular moment. I couldn't believe my luck at having the opportunity to introduce myself to an author whose book had a lasting impact on me and my creative world. I found Mr. Beagle to be a kind, gracious gentleman. I told him how his unicorn story inspired me to create my character Tigrikorn. I can't remember his exact words but he made me feel appreciated and affirmed by his response. The crowds did keep him busy later that day. As I saw the swarms around his table as I passed by another time, I felt fortunate to have had a decent conversation with him one on one earlier.



Still, I've never been enough of a fanboy to even wait in line to talk to my favorite creators. And now, in particular, I just wanted to see the freakin' movie. The raffle was a bit fun. All of us had tickets and I just missed one of the prizes by one number. It was a momentary distraction. But Emily, Melody and I were so glad the lights dimmed, the old-time curtain raised on the movie screen and the film rolled.

To see it on the large screen was marvelous. The opening score, title credits and art were exquisite. The art in the credits referenced heavily the medieval Cloister Tapestries which were themselves, in part, influenced by Persian rug and miniature motifs. My wonder and delight which I remember feeling when I first saw the movie version of that favorite book was rekindled. I saw so many scenes with new eyes and appreciation. The caravan of Mama Fortuna with the horrific harpy. The ridiculously amorous enchanted tree to which Shemdrick was tied by the brigands. King Haggard's castle, the Red Bull and, of course, the Unicorn herself --everything was brilliant.

A couple of years ago, as part of a 365 Day Tigrikorn-themed creativity project, I made a little "found object" art project using a discarded Red Bull energy drink can. I imagined how my character Tigrikorn might react to the character of the Red Bull from The Last Unicorn: 


 There will always be Red Bulls to battle with the powers of imagination.

23 September 2014

Talismans

Illustration © 2014 by O. Douglas Jennings


I was like a sorcerer's apprentice. Rather, I should say, sorceress' apprentice. My grandmother, whom I called "Maw Maw", would sometimes seem like a being of dreadful magic. With her shelves full of jars containing herbs and powders and soaps, she would conjure remedies, tasty meals or sparkling clean linen. 


During canning season, with all her arcane presses, strainers, pestles and jars, no one but Maw Maw would have the strength to undo a lid that she would screw onto the glass recepticles to seal up her harvest toil. A stick she would plunge into the ground would take root and produce leaves. Her ancient garden, planted decades before my parents were born, was full of aromatic blooms and carefully cultivated fruits. 

But her most fearsome power was over the fowl of the farm. I witnessed her bloody sacrifice first-hand and to my regret when I was four Summers old. I followed her as she carried a large hen down the path between the old stable and the chicken coup to the small field next to the old walnut tree. She had no axe. What was she up to?

When she was clear of any post or plant and stood holding the chicken almost like a sword with the head being the handle, she began. In a furious blur the chicken was propelled round and round then suddenly there was a sickening, muffled "POP". The next thing I know, the headless creature was running in circles as if it wanted to re-enact on foot it's spiral of death at the end of Maw Maw's arm.

Spouting blood like an old-time percolating coffee pot, but not contained by a lid, the creature that was once a living chicken hurled itself into my body as I stood dumbfounded. Trying to climb up my legs, it was over half as tall as me, and splattered it's blood with each blindly fumbled assault.

Maw Maw took my hand and rushed me to the house to clean me up. But later she came back to the eventually spent lifeless hen to prepare it for dinner. I recovered and joined her in the back yard as she submerged the chicken into a large pot of scalding water so its pores would open and release its feathers. Last, she freed the naked form of its scaly legs and feet before she took it in to the kitchen for cleaning, gutting an cooking.

Those discarded feet: they looked to my small eyes like eagle talons. I claimed them as my own to serve as powerful artifacts. Holding them out in front of me, one in each hand, I looked out over them and felt the ground recede. I was an eagle. Flying free from the earthy farm, I soared. Swooping low above the beasts of the field (in this case, actually just my dog Skipper) I would strike terror.

After my extended reverie, I needed a safe place for my talimans. An empty discarded Hershey Choclate box would do nicely. And this humble reliquary I would slide discretely behind Maw Maw's kitchen china cabinet.

Days later Maw Maw complained about the smell of what must of been some varmint that had died in the house. With her broom handle, she fished the Hershey box out from its hiding place. I claimed to know nothing about it.

09 September 2014

2nd Viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy

I had the pleasure of watching Guardians of the Galaxy for the second time this past weekend. It definitely merits multiple viewings. I enjoyed noticing more details to the non-stop, action-packed, cleverly-plotted and hyphenated-accolade-worthy fun story of Star Lord and Company.

As this past weekend's movie report shows, apparently I was one of many cineplex-goers who made Guardians the top box-office movie for the fourth weekend in a row. I think the relationship between (and respective excellent voice portrayals of) the two CGI-rendered characters, Rocket and Groot stole the show. But, don't misunderstand, I enjoyed the terrific complexity and fine performances underlying all the characters.

There was so much I had forgotten about the movie from the first time I saw it (It's an indictment of my overly-hectic schedule that I don't take much time to reflect on movies much after I see them). The "We are Groot" scene was brilliant! And I had to laugh again at the "blacklight/Jackson Pollock" reference. So many of the lines and plot twists were terrific.

Watching the movie a second time also confirmed for me part of the symbolism of the movie that shows it as part of our time in the character of the villain Ronan the Accuser.  His particular brand of malevolence echoes the villains in present day news: Islamic extremist terrorists. I am not the only one who noticed this connection. A conservative newspaper movie review makes an analogy not only to Islamic terrorism in general but to Hamas leaders in Gaza specifically. Another newspaper review (this time a conservative Christian paper) is only too happy to point out the Ronan/Jihadist connection.

But was happier to find a less partisan blogger Paul Michael Carlisle, who, in his well-analyzed, incisive write-up, briefly acknowledged the connection with no ax of his own to grind:


"Ronan the Accuser is a thinly veiled interpretation of a Jihad extremist; a religious fanatic who wants to bring his ancient code of tyranny to bare on a progressive mostly-white society for their perceived sins. His tactics include suicide bombings and even his facial warpaint resembled an Islamic beard!"

I hadn't even noticed the beard/warpaint connection.

So there you have it. Guardians not only is a fun, humorous, action-packed, delightful movie. It also has cultural relevance.