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The Night Shifters and The Artist

Another week, another foray into new and unchartered territory in books and movies! I’m enjoying the challenge so far. It adds a certain urgency to reading that I might otherwise slack on. Plus, having an excuse to see so many movies is nice! “But I HAVE to see a movie today! It’s for the challenge!”

Today we’re on #4/50. Yes, a long, long way to go but it’s only January! I got time!

Book

The Night Shifters, by Emily Devenport

Every now and then I read a book that, when finished, makes me sit there and think “huh”. I confess it took me an entire day to sort out exactly how I felt about it. The conclusion I came to was this: what a fascinating ride. The voice (no pun intended…read it to find out why I say that) feels a lot like Neil Gaimon. This is a huge compliment in my mind, and one not to be taken lightly. It’s a little out there, a little on the child-like side, but in the end quite gripping and compelling.

First Line: “Don’t give up on  your dreams, Mom advised. I promised I wouldn’t. I really meant to keep the promise, but I thought I had broken it — or maybe just failed to fully realize it, because I had not become a doctor, or a lawyer, or a mermaid. Or anything much, really. But on that fateful night, seventeen years later, I remembered that conversation when I went to bed.”  To me this first bit was awkward, as it felt like a flashback in a flashback disguised as reflection. It is confusing to follow and doesn’t help set the place or give the reader a firm foundation. Then again…be prepared to never have a firm foundation because this is all about a dream world and who has firm foundations in dreams? Nobody!

To be honest, to me the real first lines of this story are a bit further along. “I was a Grand Champion Dreamer. When I was asleep I dreamed a dazzling universe full of heroes and monsters, princesses and goddesses, cities and temples and gardens that made the most wonderful places on Earth seem dull in comparison.” To me that embodies the entire story and is a perfect place to begin. (I might put it in present tense…because it’s what she IS, not what she WAS, but that’s just me).

I think the largest point of confusion in this story, more than the fuzzy beginning, was that the protagonist, Hazel, is 26 years old. The writing, and story telling, indeed the story itself, all make me feel as though this is a young adult novel. But no young adult novel would include a 26 year old protagonist and a sex scene. So I’m stuck as to how to categorize this. Every time she mentioned she was 26 I felt jarred a bit. “No way,” was the thought that sprang to mind.

The plot itself is a fantastical journey through a dreamscape envisioned by someone with a vivid imagination. And the imagination is on a wild acid trip. Through an amusement park.  And the amusement park is spinning out of control.  And, like in dreams, the scenery keeps changing from one moment to the next, altered by each of the major players and Hazel herself. After a time I gave up trying to make it behave and just enjoyed the ride.

In the midst of it, this is a journey of self discovery which I think would be perfect for a YA audience, if it weren’t for the one small (but nice) sexual interlude. Overall a fast, easy read that will leave you shaking your head and contemplating your childhood. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is, of course, up to you.

A star each for being completely different from anything I’ve read in a long, long time; fascinating antagonist; a plot which twists and turns but in the end was right in front of me the whole time, except I wasn’t looking for it where I found it due to all the pretty lights and colors flashing elsewhere; including a high concept moral but not in a preachy way. 4/5 Stars.

Movie

The Artist (Jean DujardinBérénice Bejo)

A friend and I went to see this one because it’s been nominated for an Oscar, and we figured if we want an edge in the Oscar Pool we should scope out the competition. We grumbled about it though. She said “Why should I pay full price for a movie that is in black and white and has no sound!” For me, the thought of watching something without color was depressing. The world is full of color, why deny ourselves the pleasure?

As the movie started, silence descended. Uncomfortable, thick, sticky silence. The kind that makes you hesitate to breathe for fear someone might hear you. The title rolled…to silence. I leaned over to my friend and whispered “This is getting kinda creepy.” She agreed.

Then some music started and we all breathed out a collective sigh of relief. Five minutes into the movie and the first group of people left the theater. I’m not sure what part of “silent movie” disappointed their expectations. Maybe the novelty drew them. Maybe they had snuck into the theater and suddenly figured out they were in the wrong room. Maybe, like me, they found themselves wondering why on earth anyone would deliberately watch something like this.

I tried very hard to settle into the nostalgia of it all. The costumes, I’m sure, are amazing in real life. From my experience in photography I know the colors it took to get that shading of grey on the screen. I know they are bright, vivid, fun colors. Colors I’d quite like to see, actually. It distracted me, trying to guess exactly what colors produced the shades of grey.

As for the acting…it was amazing. Job well done by all involved. I think it takes something special to convey deep emotions with nothing more than facial expressions, body language and music. They did that, and did it well. There was never any doubt as to what they were feeling. I didn’t follow along for the ride, however, which is a problem. At least for me.

I never connected with the story. I never connected with the characters. As a matter of fact, toward the end I felt like slapping the guy. “Snap out of it!” I wanted to shout. I wanted someone to start SPEAKING. It was exhausting, staring closely at mouths and trying to lip read. I’m not good at it. I have no idea what they were saying, and it drove me nuts. The small little bits they gave us to read were not nearly enough. Had the movie gone 5 more minutes I might have left myself. I didn’t care if the boy got the girl, if he sorted his life out, if it had a happy ending…just didn’t care.

I’m sure that had I been around in the 1920s, I would have found the silent movies an amazing adventure. But I’m not a child of the 20’s. I’m a child of the, well, let’s just say today. The technology age, the age of color! The age of spoken dialogue.

Did I like it? I honestly can’t say. It was different. It was unique, for me anyway. As an oddity it was interesting to see. I suppose some would see it as Art. Me? I’m glad I saw it once. I won’t see it again. Make of that what you will. One star each for fantastic acting, amazing costumes, great editing and cinematography, and one for having a really cute show-stealing dog. 4/5 stars.

My friend’s reaction? “Glad I only paid $5!”

It gets lonely out here in the big wide webs. Talk to me!