Robin Williams – Rest in Peace

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Yesterday evening, the news broke that Robin Williams had died.

I’ve spent so much time trying to think of something eloquent to say, but I just…can’t. I don’t have words.

So, in honor of Mr. Williams, here are three of his movies–well, two movies and a stand-up special–that mean something to me.

Thank you for all the laughs, good sir. You will be missed.

Aladdin
As with most people my age, Aladdin was my first exposure to Robin Williams, and remains my favorite of his films just for sheer nostalgia’s sake. The energy he puts into his vocal performance is amazing, and it’s likely one of the reasons the Genie is such a beloved character. Aladdin wouldn’t be half the film it is without him.

(Apparently he would tell jokes to the cast and crew of Schindler’s List to cheer them up, since it was filming at the same time as Aladdin.)

Live on Broadway
Since I grew up watching Robin Williams in family-friendly movies, I was understandably surprised to learn that 1) he did stand-up comedy, and 2) he did stand-up comedy with swearing. I watched Robin Williams Live on Broadway for the first time when I was a freshman in college, and probably saw it twenty times that year alone. It was hilarious, and is still one of my favorite live comedy performances.

The bit on the invention of golf still cracks me up.

The Fisher King
The movie itself was so much more serious than most of his other films that I’d seen, but his performance in it sticks out in my head, most particularly this scene below. As someone who loves romance of all kinds, Williams’s words here resonate deeply with me and why I love it so much.

Obviously, this is only a small fraction of what he did, so please, let me know what I’ve missed or what I need to see. What are some of your favorite movies of his?

Book Review – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

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the-100-thousand-kingdomsI first heard about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on the Writing Excuses podcast, when the crew was talking about magic systems. They mentioned that the magic system in the book didn’t have a lot of explicit rules (at least, not to the level that Brandon Sanderson does in his novels), but that it was okay because the story didn’t need it.

So, when it went on sale for 99 cents, I snapped it up. I’m glad I did, because this book was amazing, and I have been gushing about it to literally EVERYONE who has asked “So, read any good books lately?”

Yeine is the leader of Darre, a small, matriarchal kingdom in the north. After her mother’s death, she’s summoned to Sky, the capital of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, where she’s named as heir to the throne.

The problem is, two other heirs have already been named, which, as Yeine herself puts it, makes her “two heirs too many.” But the battle for the throne is not the only battle going on in this duplicitous city, and unbeknownst to her, Yeine is about to play a much larger part in both than she ever suspects.

Yeine is easily the best thing about the book. I loved her voice, I loved the way she told her story, I loved how completely and utterly out of her depth she was and how she still managed to fight her way through. Her talents are not, at first glance, well-suited to the deeply political situation in Sky, but by God, Yeine learns fast and makes the most of what she has. She screws up, but she doesn’t shy away from fixing her mistakes, and she’s willing to go to great lengths to protect the land and people that she loves so much.

Fantasy novels aren’t often told solely in first person (and if they are, it’s usually a mixture of first and third), but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is entirely from Yeine’s point of view and it works wonderfully.

It’s woven with an art that shows you she’s jumping back and forth in time, interspersed with interesting asides and digressions, but it never gets dull and it’s never confusing. It’s so well-written that you just want to swim in it and roll around in the words.

I also loved the mythology of the world. We get a lot of stories about the gods’ history and the way the world came into being, how everything got to the way it is now. And it’s not just worldbuilding added for flavor; it’s all important, vital pieces of a puzzle that we need in order to understand what’s happening in the story.

There’s a very strong theme of love and family running through the novel: how you can love someone and hate them in equal measure, love someone and still betray them, how even families that have been broken can still be mended.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a rich, lovely fantasy novel that, on the one hand, I want to gush about for ages. On the other hand, half the fun of the book is the discovery, learning things as Yeine does, and I don’t want to rob anybody of that joy. If you’re looking for a new fantasy novel, pick this one up as soon as you can. It’s so, so worth the read.

Movie Review – Maleficent

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hr_Maleficent_13I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale story, but given that Sleeping Beauty was never one of my favorite Disney movies, I was only passingly interested in Maleficent. That is, until the trailers came out. Then, my interest went from “passing” to “I CAN’T WAIT.”

Thankfully, Maleficent lived up to my hopes, and even surpassed them in some respects. I adored the way they twisted the original story, and overall it was a gorgeous movie, completely enjoyable, despite a few hiccups.

Given the title, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the entire movie is about Maleficent, starting with her childhood (insofar as fairies have childhoods) in the moors, and her friendship with a human boy named Stefan.

However, Stefan has big dreams: dreams that involve him becoming the king of the human kingdom that neighbors Maleficent’s moors. And as we see, he’s willing to do just about anything to achieve those dreams, even if it means betraying someone he’s claimed to love.

His betrayal may get him what he wants, but it also earns him the enmity of the most powerful fairy in the moors. And Maleficent is just as determined to get her revenge as Stefan was to earn the crown.

The christening scene, where Maleficent casts her curse on Aurora, was my favorite scene in the entire movie. It’s one of the most iconic Maleficent scenes from the animated Sleeping Beauty, and to say Angelina Jolie nails it is an understatement in the highest degree. She’s absolutely note-perfect in every aspect of it: her tone, her mannerisms, her facial expressions, the chilling desire for revenge. It’s amazing.

And with the additional backstory between Stefan and Maleficent from the first 30 minutes of the movie, it becomes clear just how much of that curse is designed to strike directly at him. It’s a fantastic scene, and I’m pretty sure that alone is worth the price of admission.

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

Shush, don’t wake the baby…

After that, we’re in familiar territory: Stefan sends his infant daughter into the woods to be raised by three fairies, orders all spinning wheels destroyed, and then proceeds to spend the next sixteen years slowly spiraling into madness, driven by his own desire for revenge, to see Maleficent utterly destroyed.

Meanwhile, the three fairies raise Aurora, and we also reach one of the few things that didn’t work about the film for me. The fairies are funny, but they’re also horrifically incompetent, to the point that it’s almost stunning Aurora survives to adulthood. It’s one of the largest departures from the original, I think, and there are times when it hurts the movie more than it helps it.

The movie also glossed over why these fairies, as residents of the moors, would be attending Aurora’s christening. We got a perfunctory explanation, but I really didn’t know why they would so deliberately go against Maleficent—even if they had succeeded in making it a gesture of peace, there was no guarantee that she would follow the gesture.

But the core of the movie is Maleficent’s growth: the loss of her innocence, her cold vengeance, and then the slow build of her relationship with Aurora. While the three fairies are bickering, Maleficent, strangely, ends up being the one to ensure the baby doesn’t die. She watches from the shadows, keeping an eye on Aurora as she grows, and that new relationship is the most intriguing thing about this movie. Aurora is absolutely adorable, and you can see why Maleficent starts to have second thoughts about what she’s done.

I don’t want to talk too much more about it, because they do a good enough job of twisting the story that I’d rather not spoil it. Suffice it to say, if you’ve considered seeing Maleficent, or if you at all like fairy tales, I would really encourage you to go. It’s a great story and a wonderful retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale.