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H.p. Lovecraft (#110 of 5)

Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions

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Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions
Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions

One of the casual disappointments of the ways we often regard art of all forms is born of that feeling of exclusion that’s often projected and even more often felt. There’s a sense that you have to be educated formally to understand art and to discuss it seriously, and that you might have to be a member of an intangible club of lofty intellectuals in order to be empowered to express a thought about a book or a film or a song that you hope to be taken seriously by others. This is a tragedy, because all great art is an act of democracy that can be felt by everyone. Yes, your background will affect your responses to art, of course, and why wouldn’t it? Your background, which is to say the texture of your life (your childhood, friends, lovers past and present, jobs, education), informs your responses to everything.

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions is a passionate and engaging read, particularly for fans of del Toro’s films, and, most particularly, for monster aficionados of all ages, shapes, and stripes, but it’s most valuable for the way it expresses the filmmaker’s voracious appetite for knowledge. This is an erudite man, and he wears his references lightly, sensually: He invites you into the realms of his obsessions, which include symbolist painters such as Arnold Bocklin, Odilon Redon, and Carlos Schwabe, and writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Arthur Machen, and Stephen King. All of these artists figure prominently in Cabinet of Curiosities, and so do a variety of other painters, composers, and even biologists. You may have a hell of a reading list after even casually thumbing through this volume.

A Successful Pastiche Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden’s Joe Golem and the Drowning City

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A Successful Pastiche: Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden’s Joe Golem and the Drowning City
A Successful Pastiche: Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden’s Joe Golem and the Drowning City

Joe Golem and the Drowning City opens with that dreary old literary device: a portentous dream. But it grabs the reader all the same, because the dream is more a memory than a set of convenient symbols to explain the novel’s thematic underpinnings. As a woman births something inhuman in an underwater chamber, watched by “crimson-robed figures” and chained to “Numidian marble,” we can almost sense the prose pulling at the lizard brain, switching to the logic of cosmic horror and lurid pulps. In this literary space, dream and reality are interchangeable, because here be monsters our collective subconscious has produced over centuries of storytelling.

In the grand tradition of monster fiction and myth, symbols are woven into the reality Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden have created in Joe Golem. A grief-broken heart is literalized within the creaking, sputtering chest of a man kept alive by enchanted clockwork. The terrors of a homeless teenager come to hissing life as masked bogeymen she comes to call “gas-men.” The environmental anxieties of our present age churn up in the rising waters that consume the authors’ vision of Manhattan as a post-cataclysmic “drowning city.” This is a world where the outlandish hopes and fears of humanity spring into existence under the stars. And it should be as familiar as plunging into a favourite couch for anyone who’s read Mignola’s brilliant Hellboy series or its spinoff B.P.R.D.

Sundance Film Festival 2012 The Sessions and John Dies at the End

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Sundance Film Festival 2012: The Sessions and John Dies at the End

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Sundance Film Festival 2012: The Sessions and John Dies at the End

“Cleansing…but victorious” is how the lead protagonist of The Sessions describes his first sexual experience. The former emotion comes close to describing the resonance of writer-director Ben Lewin’s film about the libidinal awakening of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a real-life polio-afflicted poet and journalist. Thanks to Hawkes’s fantastic performance as Mark and Lewin’s clever, nuanced dialogue, The Sessions is an accomplished portrait of a resilient man that, through sex therapy, was able to experience something new and extraordinary.

Mark, a Catholic with all kinds of stereotypical faith-based hang-ups about sex, first starts thinking about doing it after he develops a crush on Amanda (Annika Marks), a pretty young woman who briefly serves as his caretaker and assistant. Mark’s temporarily crushed when Amanda doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, but after he starts to research an article about how the handicapped have sex, repressed passions are suddenly aroused within him. So after talking candidly with Father Brendan (William H. Macy), a conflicted by empathetic Catholic priest, Mark agrees to meet with Cheryl Greene (a frequently naked Helen Hunt), a sexual surrogate that teaches Mark about his body and how to stimulate a woman’s body too.