Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ninja Facts

I still love ninjas. I grew up where at least half of my buddies dressed up like a ninja for Halloween every year. Maybe it's the mystery, or perhaps the awesome weapons that makes ninjas so cool. For me, it's their butt-kicking abilities that I admire.

But there's so many ninja myths out there propagated by Hollywood, especially by cheesy ninja movies (which we'll get to later).  So what's the truth about ninjas?  Did ninjas actually even exist?

Here are some interesting ninja facts:

1) Ninjas DID exist, but the time period is hazy. Most agree they emerged by at least the 14th century. Ninja, or "shinobi," were excellent spies and assassins. They were mercenaries, a natural foil for the Japanese elite samurai class. In fact, many ninjas were disgraced samurais. The samurai nobles also employed ninjas to do their dirty work.

2) Ninjas didn't wear black. They wore navy blue at night. But they were masters of camouflage. They worked to blend in. They dressed as peasants and other normal people. That makes sense, since sneaking around town in an all black uniform would make you look silly AND easy to spot.

3) Ninjas didn't wear masks. This is not to say that they didn't wear them. But it really wasn't a part of the uniform. Not like it's depicted in the movies, anyway.  Again, you go around wearing a mask, you're just going to draw attention to yourself.

4) Women were ninjas too. They were called kenoichi. And they often dressed as servants or concubines to infiltrate an enemy's estate. Women were mostly used as spies, but they could kick some ass when needed.

5) They didn't throw "Chinese stars." First of all, ninjas are from Japan. Second of all, these shuriken were used mostly for slashing and distraction. Ninjas were very good at disappearing and escaping. They would throw the shuriken in order to throw off an opponent.

And for fun, I bring you a great scene from the cheesiest ninja movie ever, Ninja: Silent Assassin. The best part...the fact the ninjas wear headbands that say "ninja" on them. I especially love how doing a disco move makes your ninja uniform suddenly appear on your body.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Less Boys Are Reading Books

The word "epidemic" is so overused these days, calling something an epidemic no longer grabs our attention. A NY Times article by Robert Lipsyte (author of One Fat Summer among other books) makes this very interesting and astute point about the current state of Y.A. Literature:

"The next spate of Y.A. fiction tended to be simplistic problem novels that read like after-school specials, and soon split along gender lines. Books with story lines about disease, divorce, death and dysfunction sold better for girls than did similar books for boys. The shift seemed to fundamentally alter the Y.A. landscape.

At the 2007 A.L.A. conference, a Harper executive said at least three-­quarters of her target audience were girls, and they wanted to read about mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies and vampires."

So, why are so many boys not reading these days? 20% of the book market is male. That's awful.

First of all, I agree with Lipsyte. Look at what's out there - no heterosexual boy is going to pick up a book about romance and other girly stuff. I'm sorry, but they just won't. Hell, a boy won't knowingly pick up a book with a female as the main protagonist. You have to trick a boy to read Hunger Games by NOT showing a picture of Katniss, the female protagonist, on the cover with a bow and arrow darting across a forest. Or maybe have the female author use their initials as to not give away their gender to their male audience (i.e. S.E. Hinton or J.K. Rowling).

Books marketed for girls are so much easier to find. Just go to any bookstore and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Boys judge a book by its cover. Big time. Is there a double standard? Oh hell-to-the-yeah. A girl can more easily enjoy a book that is marketed for boys. But a boy won't return the favor? But why? It's the same reason why it's perfectly fine for a girl to wear a boys sweater or jacket, but not very cool for a boy to wear a girl's. Who loses out? Boys do. Girls have the capacity to relate to a story, even if the main character is a boy. Guys can't do that very well.

Let's first stop trying to make everything so damn equal, i.e. raising children in a non-gender environment (which is total bullshit). Let's celebrate our differences. Science has shown time and time again that boys and girls' brains are completely different

Michael Gurian, author of Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents points out that boys' brains light up differently when reading. The male brain shows much less cross-hemisphere activity than girls'.  Simply put, boy brain power is much more localized and focused in one area at a time.

A girls' brain scan will show activity all over the place - much more diffused brain power with both hemispheres busy at work. When boys are doing a task (like reading), they need more action, more stuff happening in order to engage their brains more...to make the experience more vivid and meaningful.

I don't care how pissed off militant feminists are with the fact that research has shown that in average girls, the regions of the brain responsible for math and science mature 4-8 years LATER than boys.  (Don't freak out, as I'm not saying a girl can't be a scientist or engineer). Acknowledge that there IS an inherent difference between almost all boys and girls, and we're past the first step to solving this epidemic.

Boys need books that they can relate to. Boys tend to internalize their own struggles, keep them locked away. They're not so willing to "talk it out" or "let it out" like girls. So books that appeal to them have to be daring enough to go there...to deal with stuff they normally would keep inside. The books have to speak to them, and the boys must want to be interested in reading those books.

Unfortunately, books with a female protagonist is an immediate turn off. Most boys don't think they can relate to girls. Don't get angry about this hasty (and usually incorrect) prejudice. Don't try to fight it. It's okay for now. Chill, Wild Bill.

Let's stop trying to shove books that WE think they need to be reading. It just won't work. Diary of a Wimpy Kid might not be your idea of fine literature, but damnit, if your 13 year old wants to read it - let him. Encourage reading!

Adolescent boys are constantly trying to make sense of the world around them, and in a very concrete way - that's why they tend to go after nonfiction books or magazines. But novels that stretch the imagination, filled with intense action, humor, color, and movement also appeal to boys.

Boys are only boys for so long. Once we get them hooked on reading, that's when there's the potential to open the whole world to them. Maybe we can get more of them thinking that reading a book with a little romance isn't so bad after all? But if we turn guys off to reading, we close the door on giving them the chance to explore beyond their normal preferences and comfort zones.

Hell, I read Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook. You don't get more open than that.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My interview with SyFy Channel's Ghost Hunters!

Head over to Culture Brats to read my awesome write-up on a media press conference for Ghost Hunters I attended.

Amy Bruni and Adam Berry were fantastic!

And if you're a fan of the show, the mid-season premier is this Wednesday on SyFy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The World According to Apes

With the successful latest Ape movie, I'm glad Rise of the Planet of the Apes was able to save this franchise. Let's face it, we haven't had many gems since the original Planet of the Apes film starring Charlton Heston came out. It's amazing that the whole franchise has survived this long, and it's a testament to the main message of all the films: man is capable of great things, but we're also capable of booting ourselves right off the evolutionary ladder pretty easily.

Growing up in a Star Wars world, Planet of the Apes was the second banana (ouch, that was bad). But I as a fan, I wanted to give you my take on all the Apes movies.

(1968) Planet of the Apes. A science-fiction classic, based on a French novel. Charlton Heston was awesome as Taylor, the astronaut that crash lands on a planet ruled by apes. Roddy McDowell playing the scientist chimp Cornelius and Kim hunter as Dr. Zira really steal the show. And of course, Linda Harrison as the beautiful Nova was eye candy. This movie has so many memorable lines. One of my favorites: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" So in the end, Taylor discovers that the planet is actually Earth, and that we humans blew each other up with nuclear bombs. So apes replaced man as the ruler of Earth.

(1970) Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Pretty crappy sequel. Charlton Heston shows up in the second half of the film while another astronaut named Brent crash lands in search of Taylor. Brent and Taylor team up to find a bunch of weirdo telepathic humans living underground who worship a nuclear bomb. The apes invade, Taylor's shot, and just before he dies he hits the button essentially destroying the Earth. Yeah. It's just as bad as it sounds. Maybe worse.

(1971) Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Cornelius, Zira, and some other scientist chimp escape the nuclear explosion and somehow manage to get inside Taylor's spaceship. They ride the nuclear blast in the ship, and they're transported back to 1970s Earth. They're instant celebrities! But the government turns on them, Zira gives birth to a baby named Milo, and some crazy dude kills Cornelius and Zira and a baby ape (that he thought was the intelligent Milo). This wasn't too bad of a movie, and it does manage to capture some of the snappy dialogue of the first movie. But overall, it was just OK.

(1972) Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. God-awful movie. It's 1983 and all cats and dogs die. So humans turn to chimps. They enslave the chimps, until one of them named Caesar begins an ape revolt against the humans. I appreciate the social commentary of this film, but this was really a terrible flick.

(1973) Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The film franchise goes out with a whimper here. It's not as bad as Conquest, and it does bring the entire story arc to a final close. But it's so-so at best. It's the 21st century, and Caesar attempts to get the apes and humans to get along, post nuclear war. A zealous gorilla doesn't want peace and tries to overthrow Caesar (et tu Brute?). In the end, apes and humans decide to live together in perfect harmony, side by side on my piano...

(2001) Planet of the Apes. A complete reboot directed by Tim Burton. The costumes and make up is incredible, but the movie is mediocre. It's not too bad up until the ending. The ending doesn't make complete sense. I won't give it away, but let's just say that when Mark Wahlberg returns to his time on Earth, the world he knew might be a little harrier.

(2011) Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I wasn't sure where the move belonged in the Ape's timeline. It wasn't a sequel OR a prequel to the 2001 film, that much is clear. This movie is awesome, and I think a lot of people have been surprised at how good this film is. It is most definitely a prequel to the 1968 Planet of the Apes film, but as a standalone, it is a fantastic story with believable CGI.

The 1968 original and the current prequel really are the only two movies worth seeing. The other five films were just blown out of a baboon's butt, really. I hope the leave the franchise alone, as this is the perfect way to end it. But something tells me the Apes will be back.



Monday, August 8, 2011

I Don't Wanna Grow Up...

Here's an interesting turn of events in the literary world: more grown-ups read young adult books than young adults.

Is this really a surprise? Look at the Twilight Series. I saw more women in their mid-20s through 40s reading it than teen girls. And Harry Potter? Adults were just as enthralled with the adventures of the "Chosen One" as their own children.  Parents and children are sharing books. How weird is that?

I think it's a great thing. As an adult that has never stopped reading YA literature, I think it's fantastic that adults and children can share in these stories. And if it's really good YA, then adults will certainly come away from a book with a completely different interpretation than their kiddos. Go back and read some books you enjoyed as a child. It's the same book, but reading it as an adult is such a completely different experience. It's all about perspective.

And it's awesome for the industry. Even when the economy went into the crapper back in 2009, YA books surged by 30% in total sales! Add e-publishing and easy access to new and indie YA writers, there's more great stuff for parents and their kids alike.

Literary snobs scoff at this, looking down from their hardback books that smell of musty basements. Peter Pan Syndrome indeed! They're quick to accuse adults of succumbing to pure escapism when delving into a book written by Rowling, Meyer, Riordan, or Suzanne Collins. And my answer to that is simple:

Duh!

Our lives are full of middle of the night feedings, cleaning up vomit, bills stacking up, worrying about aging parents, a national economic crisis, and all the other stressful and crappy adult things on our minds in the real world. Escaping to another world, living through a young adult protagonist's eyes, and overcoming massive obstacles without help from adults...they give us not just a form of escape, but a sense of empowerment.

And how great is it to discuss a great book with your child? Gives you something to talk about at the dinner table, doesn't it? Many mothers have bonded with their teen daughters over the Twilight Series. I've seen moms and dads dressed in their Hogwarts best during book and film premiers. Reading becomes a family affair, something to be shared between parent and child.

Adults sharing YA literature with teens can only be a wonderful thing.