I’ve been hearing for years about how amazing Anne Rice is. She’d written the hugely successful Vampire Chronicles series, the Mayfair witches books, the Sleeping Beauty erotica trilogy… but I’d never read one of her stories. I’d always wanted to, but something always kept me away.
What’s funny is that I read her son Christopher Rice’s first three books before I ever picked one of hers up. He’s a talented writer himself and I think he has a long career ahead of him.
What about her turned me off so? To be honest, it was her very public return to the Catholic Church and her pledge to devote the rest of her life’s work to Him. Even though I’d never read a word of her writing, I somehow felt betrayed… mostly because of the knowledge that her son is gay and her decision seemed like a slap in the face. How could she rejoin a religion that is bent on condemning her son’s soul to hell?
Forgive me my rant, because that’s not how I feel now. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with religion for a long time, and it has taken many years to sort through my conflicting feelings towards it. I’m not a religious person by any means, but moreso in the sense that I despise organized religion. I don’t like the messages they preach and I think it is despicable that they use God as an excuse to spread their own bigotry and hatred.
Myself, I’m agnostic. You heard that right… I’m not an atheist. I’m a scientifically oriented person, but I believe there are things that can’t be explained by science, so my mind isn’t completely made up. Though I don’t go to mass or pray, I still believe in God in my own way and have my own respect for Him. I believe that Jesus was a real person who tried to change the world for the better and ended up pissing off the bigots of his time to his unfortunate end (which is why I don’t believe he would stand for the hateful things his followers claim to preach in his name…).
However, I now know that not everyone who is a Catholic follows all of the same beliefs. There are those who follow the rule of tolerance and love, and that’s where I now realize Anne Rice is. She has never stopped being supportive of her son, and is a strong advocate for Gay Rights. In a way, I saw in myself some of the same attitudes that some of His more fanatic followers have, and I wasn’t giving her a chance just because of her religion. There was something seriously wrong with that.
So one day I decided it was time to delve into her stories. I eased myself in with a viewing of the adaptation of her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, and instantly fell in love with her characters and their story. I bought the book that day and finished it within a week.
There are many things one can say about Anne’s writing, about her captivating stories, her lyrical prose… but what I found myself so absorbed in was her voice. It was one of my more magical reading experiences, and I couldn’t believe how she kept up such language on every page of the book, in every sentence, every word. There was nothing extraneous, every word was important and helped to paint the picture of this beautiful world. I’d enjoyed the storyline as a movie, but reading the novel was an experience on a whole different level. She’d found an instant fan, one who’d been writing her off unfairly for years.
All that being said, I received a copy of her newest novel, ANGEL TIME, for Christmas (note the irony in THAT), and it was the first book of the new year that I read.
Here’s a small description of the book from Publisher’s Weekly:
“[…] this kickoff to bestseller Rice’s new Songs of the Seraphim religious romance series centers on hired assassin Toby O’Dare, a one-time aspirant to the priesthood until personal tragedy unmoored his life. Guardian angel Malchiah visits Toby, who’s just consummated his latest kill, and offers him redemption for his sins. After accepting the offer, Toby is whisked away to 13th-century England, where, in the guise of a Dominican friar, he becomes the protector of a Jewish couple accused wrongly by the gentile populace of having murdered their young daughter for her conversion to Christianity.”
To be fair, the book started out slow. There’s a lot of exposition from Toby, who we only know as Lucky at this point, over his life as an assassin and his longing to believe in God. I love exposition (as a literary writer myself), so knew enough to give the book a chance. Again, I was amazed by Anne’s lyrical words, the way she could weave together sentences and paragraphs and pages as if from the finest silk. Though beautifully woven, she almost lost me in the second chapter after a lengthy description of a hotel. Even though I knew it had to be important, I wasn’t deep enough into the story to care just yet. But still I gave it a chance.
And that’s when Malchiah came into the picture. He’s an angel that has been following Toby for almost his entire life. He promises to absolve Toby of his sins, to get him back into God’s good graces. As a way of getting Toby to believe he was real, he recites Toby’s childhood in great detail, things Toby never revealed to anyone in his current life.
That’s where the story really started for me, hearing about poor but determined Toby as a young boy, oldest of three, trying to follow his faith and manage a corrupt father and alcoholic mother at the same time. His innocence and pure spirit are captivating, and it makes his loss all the more heartbreaking. Once he leaves home for New York City, circumstances lead him to his first kills, but you know that he is completely in the right for what he does.
The story takes an interesting turn there, as Toby gives himself over to His services and is transported back in time (because in Angel Time, time as we know it does not exist), and he has to protect the Jewish parents of a young girl who the town’s Catholics believe murdered her because she wanted to convert to Christianity. In this time, we get to hear from Fluria, the girl’s mother, about her own struggles with love and religion, because as a Jewess, she fell in love with a Christian, and people were killed in those times for much less.
In the end, this story is about love and Toby’s struggle to find faith and his place in the world. Again, I fell into the trap of believing the story would be preachy, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. It wasn’t in the slightest.
I’m fascinated with religion, by the characters and the stories they tell. Religion is a topic I bring into a lot of my own writings, in various ways, for that reason. And this is a story that anyone, of any religion or belief system, can enjoy.
I follow Anne on Twitter and was happy to learn that she recently finished edits on the next book in her new Songs of the Seraphim series, The Dybbuk, and it is scheduled for an October 2010 release. It’s definitely on my To Buy list… I’m even considering picking up her Life of Christ series. I figure I owe her the benefit of the doubt in this case.
Kyle W. Kerr
I’ve seen a few new movies in the months since my last post, but there’s really only one worth mentioning.
Being the movie fanatic that I am, I frequently prowl the back alleys of movie gossip sites and heard about this particular feature a number of years ago. After the success of Titanic, James Cameron basically fell off the face of the planet, and I figured he was suffering from the same fear that plagues all successful artists… how the hell is he going to follow THAT?
But that isn’t what really happened. He spent his time working on a couple of documentaries (low-key, of course), but he’d also started production on something he’d written almost a decade earlier, an idea that was too far ahead of the technology at the time. He wrote AVATAR and ended up putting it away in a drawer, only to pick it up many years later, blow off the dust, and think… Hey, this isn’t so bad!
And so it began. Production started and whispers of a new mega-budget Cameron project started to circulate (even now, no one really knows how much it cost, but many believe it is the most expensive movie ever made, so over $300 million!). People kept talking about the kind of technology being developed and pictures leaked of actors wearing strange costumes. Everyone in the industry was buzzing, and that buzzing eventually turned into a frenzy late last summer when the first trailer debuted.
I have to admit, when I first saw the trailer I thought it looked a bit… dumb. Well, not necessarily dumb, but I didn’t really know what to think of it. Not much of the story was explained (it was a TEASER trailer, after all!), and the visual effects didn’t look right. Little did I know that it was the limited viewing capabilities of our home computers (even though my monitor is high-def) that was the problem. BUT, even though I wasn’t overly impressed the first time I watched the trailer, I watched it again. And again. And many more times over the following months until the theatrical trailer was released, and by that time, I’d started to become a little, well, OBSESSED.
Cut to the week leading up to the release of the movie. Everyone is talking about it, critics are raving, and you can’t turn on your TV without seeing a dozen or so commercials every hour. I talked my friend Francine into seeing the movie in 3D with me on opening night, even though we expected a huge crowd, and I probably lost a good handful of Twitter and Facebook friends because I could talk of little else.
Now, I have a confession to make. I am a HUGE Titanic freak (sounds redundant when you think about it, doesn’t it?), and it is probably the worst kept secret that I am deeply in love with Kate Winslet… Couple that with the fact that the Terminator franchise is one of my all time favorite storylines (T2 is one of the most incredible movies ever, and I WAS named after Kyle Reese from T1 after all), and the fact that he also directed the hilarious True Lies, I was definitely a James Cameron fan. But now, my liking of him has escalated to an unhealthy level.
We went to the theater early (only about 2 hours), expecting to see a swarm of people (I was there for when people were lining up for the midnight release of The Twilight Saga: New Moon back in November, and was expecting similar lines), but was disappointed by the seeming lack of bodies. We didn’t even get in line right away, and opted to sit in the game room for a half hour or so because we weren’t really worried about getting bad seats at that point. All of this was an ominous sign. I knew AVATAR was the most expensive movie ever made, and I feared for Jim’s reputation if it didn’t open with smashing numbers. But then a queue started, and we diligently and patiently waited for it to snake its way into the theater.
I wear glasses, so having to wear 3D specs over them has always been difficult. I’ve never watched an entire feature length movie in 3D, but did see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in IMAX, and the last twenty minutes of the movie were in 3D (which was my first real experience with 3D where it wasn’t kitschy), and it was annoying for that short amount of time, so how would I feel after over two and a half hours?
Honestly? I forgot I was wearing them. Well, after the disconcerting sensation of depth perception for a MOVIE wore off! I was disoriented for maybe the first five minutes, but after…
For those of you who don’t know what AVATAR is about, it follows the story of ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is recruited by a company to fill in for his recently murdered twin brother. Jake’s brother was a scientist and worked closely with the avatar program, training for years to operate an avatar body and learning the native language of the Na’vi. His involvement meant millions of investment dollars, and because the avatar bodies are made from the DNA of their host mixed with the DNA of the Na’vi, Jake is literally able to step into his brother’s avatar, something no one else can do.
He is transported several light-years away to Pandora, where he is quickly recruited by the person in charge of security, another ex-Marine, Colonel Quaritch, to be his spy on the Na’vi, to learn their ways and feed him useful information on how they might eventually fight the native population.
But what Jake couldn’t have foreseen was the level of intelligence the “savages” have, or the peace loving and spiritual insight that is their very nature. He manages to get accepted (for the most part) into their tribe, thanks mostly to Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who believes she can see his good heart and pure spirit. Jake falls in love with Neytiri and the Na’vi People, so when Quaritch decides it’s time to move and destroy the spirit of The People, Jake has a very tough decision to make: stand back and watch it happen, or abandon his own race and fight alongside the Na’vi.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The visuals are unparalleled. I’ve never seen a movie with so much CGI work look so photorealistic. That’s thanks to the team over at Weta Workshop/Weta Digital in New Zealand (owned by my other favorite director, Peter Jackson, who’ve done visual effects work for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Chronicles of Narnia movies, King Kong, X-Men: The Last Stand, Jumper, The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), just to name a few). They were heralded for their work on Lord of the Rings, but they have progressed to GODS with AVATAR. The transition from real to CGI is seamless, and when you have a human standing next to a Na’vi, neither looks fake. What’s most impressive was the emotion they were able to capture from the actors, from small facial movements, to the depths of their eyes. If any digital effects company in the world could’ve pulled this off, it was always going to be Weta. When I saw LOTR for the first time, I was mesmerized. And if anyone has seen King Kong, pay special attention to the end of the movie when you can LITERALLY see the light go out of Kong’s eyes when he dies. Beautiful CG work. And, being the crazy movie fan that I am, I have watched ALL of the special features for the LOTR movies, King Kong, and The Chronicles of Narnia, so know the depth of detail they put into their designs that we can’t even SEE on screen.
Also, the 3D enhances your experience of the movie tenfold. I haven’t seen the movie in 2D. Hopefully they’ll find a way to release the DVD in 3D as well, because I can’t imagine watching it any other way. The way it just immerses you. Who would’ve thought that just adding depth perception to a movie could create such a difference!
The thing that I liked most about the movie is the thing people have spoken about least, and that’s the acting. Sam Worthington as the lead is great. This was the first movie I’d seen him in (he was previously in Terminator: Salvation, but I wouldn’t see that until after AVATAR), and I was impressed with him. He’s great with the action, but he could also be passionate and sensual when needed. He’s a commanding presence, so it takes no stretching of the imagination to see him leading a Na’vi army against The Sky People.
But the person who most impressed me, the performance that stayed with me long after the credits stopped rolling, was that of Zoe Saldana playing Neytiri. It’s a testament to her performance that I FORGOT I was watching a nearly naked, ten foot tall alien with yellow eyes and a zero waistline. The raw emotion that radiated from her, the sadness in her eyes, the joy on her face, the power of her voice… whatever the scene, she never gave less than her A-Game. AVATAR was just nominated for NINE Academy Awards, yet Zoe wasn’t nominated for best actress. I think this was a HUGE oversight. EVERY SINGLE SECOND of Neytiri’s performance was done by Zoe. They didn’t record voices for this movie and then Weta spent the next three years doing the animation, these actors suited up and motion-captured their entire performance. Meaning Zoe had to train for months beforehand so she was lithe enough to be a believable Na’vi, had to learn their native language, had to fight, to cry, to love. Every miniscule movement on their faces was captured and 100% reproduced on their Na’vi counterparts thanks to the amazing technology James Cameron and his crew invented. Don’t believe me? Check out this video:
All in all, a worthy movie of all the attention and money it is making. This was truly a magical experience for me, and if anyone hasn’t seen it in 3D in theaters yet, you cannot imagine what you are missing.
Film Score: 12 out of 10.
Kyle W. Kerr
02/2/10 | General, My Writings | 0 Comments
Last December I did a recap of 2008. This year, I’m just ready to say goodbye to 2009, no rumination required.
Through all the hardships, I can honestly say I have high hopes for 2010. Things have been steadily happening, little signs that the unbearable will soon metamorphosize into the endurable, that we’ll all finally be able to take that deep breath of relief.
I finished my book in an epic journey that spanned the better part of eight years. I’m happy with it (for the most part), and finally feel like it’s TIME to move on. I’ve started my second book, which is an incredible departure from the literary style I’ve been immersed in for so long. It’s still literary in its own right (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to turn the literary switch OFF), but it’s a literary thriller, and the new voice excites me. I just need to work on giving myself more time to write, because I like what I’ve written so far.
It’s also has a BIG concept, which is something my literary novel is missing, and is therefore much more marketable. And then there’s my YA urban fantasy series I want to start. As well as a few other projects waiting in the wings (including an adaptation for one of my all-time favorite books as a spec script that I hope to present to the producers… if I ever get around to writing it!).
So again, high hopes. But it all rests on me to make it happen.
In other news, I’m planning a return to Boston. I came back to Pennsylvania after graduating college in May of 2008, wanting to be closer to my family and my friends from grade/high school. But the job opportunities have been nil, and I didn’t realize just how much I’d miss the city until I was gone (isn’t that the way it always works?). So, I’ve formulated a plan that should get me up there by May, June at the latest. Pay off as much of my immediate debt as possible (I’m working enough overtime to double my paychecks right now), start putting away as much into savings as I can, and then make the move. My closest Boston friend, Nikki, has already agreed to get an apartment with my, and my most recent roommate Jordan might come along as well if the move is worth his while. So, that’s what’s keeping me going right now, knowing that I’ll soon be back in the place I was happiest.
In the meantime, I’m going to work, and hopefully I’m going to write. My productivity is suffering in the wake of my lacking motivation, so I just need to get back into the habit of being creative. I’ve got a lot of ideas in my head, and they’re never going to come to life if I don’t take the initiative.
Just send some motivation my way… if you’ve got any to spare!
Kyle W. Kerr