Friday, October 31, 2014

Your queue: Halloween Netflix Recommendations

Happy Halloween, boys and girls!

And happy birthday, Heroine Jones!

A little over a year ago, I kicked off this bookish blog with a list of classics for Halloween, but a lot of good that list will do you today.  It's Halloween right now.  You don't have time for books!

But I bet you might watch something terrifying tonight.  And if you don't have something in mind, I'm here to help you out, boys and girls.

Jarrod has a soft spot in his heart for horror films, zombies, and anything Stephen King, and while I have come to enjoy Stephen King and most horror films are manageable with an unmentionable amount of wine, I have found that I really prefer psychological thrillers to classic horror films.  You know the real creepy ones that leave you feeling slightly ill?  The ones that went where you weren't ready to go?

That's what this list is about. I've put some movies I've streamed from Netflix recently on a creepy continuum, starting with the safest and ending with the weirdest things I've possibly ever seen.  These aren't the heart-pounding, armrest-gripping, involuntary-jumping scary movies.  These are the creepy ones that a lot of Netflix scary movie round-ups I've seen have forgotten.  And remember that creepy doesn't often coincide with Academy Awards, so buckle up.

Creepy Fun

The Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
I bet you've seen this movie already, but I'm here to remind you it's available on Netflix. Tim Burton is so good at making you feel a little uncomfortable without feeling like you can never be in a room alone again, and this is the kid version of that, so it's totally safe.  It's just some good family fun with wonderful music and a cute ghost dog.

Corpse Bride (2005)
Tim Burton again with another melancholy kinda-dead girl hopelessly in love with a tall, skinny guy. There's also an arranged marriage gone morbidly wrong and some more fun musical numbers.

Creep Only a Cult Could Love

Donnie Darko (2001)
Cult classic. Troubled boy. Rogue airplane engine. Pills. Adult bunny costume. Last day of earth scheduled for Halloween. Kinda creepy but you'll be fine afterwards.

A Young Doctor's Notebook (2012)
A British miniseries with Daniel Radcliffe as a doctor in his residency in a small village hospital and Jon Hamm as the older morphine-addicted version of Radcliffe (that guy grew about a foot from his late 20s to his 40s! Remarkable!)  This is for people who are into dark British humor and comically gory surgery scenes.  Normally I wouldn't recommend this since I'm not sure if I ended up really liking it that much, but it could be a funny, gross 90-minute series to watch on Halloween.  (Has anyone seen this besides me?  I haven't heard anyone talk about it. What did you think of it?)

Creepy Mysteries 

The Paperboy (2012)
Not so much horror as suspense, this movie has Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, and Zac Efron, along with Matthew McConaughey in a role similar to his Mud character and set in swamp country like True Detective.  Kidman's character is in love with an incarcerated creep who was wrongly convicted for the murder of a sheriff.  Efron and McConaughey are brothers who get caught up in the case with a journalist friend.  Despite its great cast, The Paperboy did not get rave reviews across the board, but I found it interesting and definitely creepy.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Decades-old rapes, murders, and a disappearance mystery center around one unusual family in a small Swedish town. A male journalist and a gifted but troubled girl team up to solve this creepy mystery by delving into a creepy family's past.  (Heads up, there's a lot of weird sex stuff in this one, and actually The Paperboy has some, too.  This is the Creepy Mysteries with Some Weird Sex Stuff category, I guess.)

Creepiest Movie Ever Candidate

We Are What We Are (2013)
Proof that a scary movie can be made on a tiny budget, this independent film will leave you horrified.  Two socially-isolated sisters are forced to carry out their cannibalistic family's absurd interpretation of a Bible passage.  The ending will sort of make you wish you'd never watched it, which means it's probably a great film for Halloween.  Watch this one at your own risk.

Skip the candy and go straight for this salted caramel apple martini

Monday, October 20, 2014

Literary Criticism Matters

Recently I've been contemplating life questions like why write books, why read books, why talk about books, why bother to write posts containing my humble thoughts on books.  As an English degree-holder, I'd like to think that I did not waste my time and (parents') money getting a degree in literature and writing.  Any degree from a good school that teaches critical thinking and communication skills is time well spent, but was the actual literary criticism I spent so much time on meaningful?  Was my undergraduate paper on the color white in a Kate Chopin short story important? Maybe not, but I believe that criticism of literature definitely is.

The difference between a simple judgment and a thoughtful critique were reinforced in my mind by two articles shared with me by my old professor a year ago while discussing criticism and the philosophy thereof.  The articles, one by Daniel Coffeen and one by Sam Anderson, preach the importance of giving back to the art and the artist by engaging in a conversation with the work of art, about how it fits in with other works, what new things it brings to the world, and in what different directions the work could continue its journey.

Criticism requires more than just clicking a “Like” button and moving on, which is what most of us are used to doing.  A quick yay or nay.  In addition, Anderson states that in order for people to take notice of books and book criticism in a world of “Like” buttons, the critic must be an excellent writer and treat criticism as an art in itself.   And Coffeen says that criticism demands "a lending of oneself to the performance of another." Truly art criticism is an art all its own, since the critic and the artist go through the same process: they react to a stimulant, organize the reaction and collect their thoughts, convey these thoughts in creative expression, and prod a reaction out of others, too.

English majors, don't feel bad about your choices as young college students to take on the monstrous task of telling famous writers and poets what worked in their art piece and what didn't.  More realistically, you are telling your professors and classmates these things, but it nevertheless enriches the literary experience of fellow readers and furthers artistic growth in the world.  It matters.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Homemade Apple Cider

A couple of weekends ago, Matt, Jill, Jarrod, and I put on fall festive flannels and boots, crammed into backseats and front seats, and drove 25 miles south of dear old Kirksville to West Orchards for some crisp, red fun.

When we arrived we realized we were there an hour and a half too late, but thanks to some bees that decided to swarm, the kind and jolly owner was still around.  Fall's version of Santa gave us a quick tour of the various types of apples he grew and where to find them, took our $12, and let us loose upon his orchard.

Though overcast, it was the best weather. After picking Jonagolds, Honey Crisps, Red Delicious (not at all like the store-bought), and little red Libertys, we played a little baseball with the fallen fruit.  We loaded up Matt's car with our harvest and drove north in the perfectly setting sun.

And now I have so many dang apples everywhere, on almost every surface of my kitchen. SO. MANY. APPLES.  One pie later and I still had about 50 apples minus the 4 little guys it took to make that pie.  I was doing my best to eat them raw, but the apple situation was getting to be a real problem.  So I decided to make homemade cider.  And this was a good decision.  I used ten whole apples, which greatly relieved the apple tension around here.  In addition, it was very tasty and a fun peach color.

Here's what I did to make about 6 cups of cider:

Homemade Apple Cider

10 apples, cored and quartered
three cinnamon sticks
water to cover apples

Put apples and cinnamon in a pot. You can definitely add brown sugar, but the apples I used were sweet enough on their own. Cover with water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 2 hours.  Strain with a fine mesh strainer and cheesecloth if you have it.  I didn't use a cheesecloth.  I just let the apple settle after I used the fine mesh strainer and didn't mix up the cider before using it.

If you want to be just like me when you grow up, you'll make a hot toddy with your homemade cider by adding some bourbon and perhaps a little St. Germain.

Unfortunately I now have a ton of weirdly colored applesauce leftover from cider-making that I don't know what to do with!  Give me all your apple recipes, please!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate is a Mexican love story about Tita de la Garza and her family.  Tita has a great talent for cooking all of her family's recipes perfectly.  She also possesses a magical power that adds her emotions to her dishes if she is feeling a particularly strong sentiment while preparing that meal.  The people who enjoy her dish then feel the same strong emotion, be it lust, anger, sadness, or joy.  Tita has no control over this power and only seems half-aware of it, which gets her into a lot of complicated situations with her family members.

Like Water for Chocolate is told in twelve monthly installments, with a pertinent traditional recipe preceding each chapter. Esquivel's style is folklore frank and matter-of-fact, even when the facts of the matter involve crazy magical realism such as a chicken tornado (it's exactly what it sounds like) and death by spectacular causes (which I won't spoil for you).  As with most folk stories, it is sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking.

A while ago I found this BuzzFeed list (love BuzzFeed book lists!).  As I was looking through these awesome titles, I started to realize that Like Water for Chocolate could easily have been on this list.  It has some of the same components as the list's other books that have sparked someone's "feminist awakening."  Like Water for Chocolate is totally focused on the women of the de la Garza family.  Tita's Mama Elena has been head of the house since Tita's father died, and Mama Elena only has daughters, making their house and ranch and story very femme-centric.  All the main characters are women: women obeying other women, learning from other women, helping each other, fighting each other for supplementary, passive male love-interest characters.  While civil war Mexico was undoubtedly a patriarchal society, Like Water for Chocolate demonstrates how war has often pulled countries away from domestic patriarchy to literal matriarchy.

Like Water for Chocolate also explores female sexuality, highlighting the women's desires more than their male lovers.  Apart from this feminist-approved treatment of sexuality, this bittersweet tale boasts female characters that take charge of their own futures.  At first Tita tries to follow tradition even though it causes her pain, separating her from her beloved Pedro.  Eventually she throws tradition to the wind and goes after what she wants.  Tita's sister Gretrudis, who runs away from home to chase a handsome soldier after eating a delicious meal made by Tita that happened to be drenched in lust, becomes a general in the Mexican army, so it's not just domestic life that doesn't adhere strictly to traditional gender roles in Esquivel's tale.

Whether you're into feminist awakenings or not, you should definitely read Like Water for Chocolate, particularly if you're into any of the following: Mexican food, sexual tension, crazy mothers, sister rivalry, magical cooking powers, chicken tornadoes, ghosts, interesting deaths, or everlasting love.  And if none of that interests you, I'm not sure what type of friendship we could have.