Monday, June 25, 2012

TV: 5 Minute Preview of Beauty and the Beast (the Remake)

Hey everyone!

I just wanted to draw your attention to Once Upon a Blog's great post about the new CW series Beauty and the Beast. She makes a lot of great points. On the one hand, the show looks a lot better than I expected, but on the other, its really not looking as good as it should be. You be the judge:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Movies: A First Look at Maleficent

You guessed it! The first official look at Angelina Jolie as Maleficent! No green skin, as some will be sad to see, but she looks damn good. Here is the official synopsis from Disney:

Directed by two-time Oscar®-winning production designer Robert Stromberg ("Avatar," "Alice in Wonderland"), in his directorial debut, and produced by Joe Roth, "Maleficent" is written by Linda Woolverton ("The Lion King," "Beauty and the Beast") and executive produced by Angelina Jolie, Don Hahn, Matt Smith and Palak Patel. Co-starring in the film are Sharlto Copley ("District 9"), Elle Fanning ("Super 8"), Sam Riley ("On the Road"), Imelda Staunton ("Vera Drake"), Miranda Richardson ("The Hours"), Juno Temple ("Atonement") and Lesley Manville ("Secrets & Lies").
This is the untold story of Disney's most beloved villain, Maleficent, from the 1959 classic "Sleeping Beauty." The film reveals the events that hardened her heart and drove her to curse the baby, Aurora. Behind-the-scenes talent includes Academy Award®–winning cinematographer Dean Semler ("Dances with Wolves," "In the Land of Blood and Honey"), production designer Gary Freeman ("Saving Private Ryan," "The Bourne Supremacy"), two-time Oscar® nominated costume designer Anna B. Sheppard ("Schindler's List," "The Pianist") and seven-time Academy Award–winning makeup artist Rick Baker ("Planet of the Apes," "Men in Black").>
As you can see, it is a random-ass group of people! Excited for the cast, though! It is scheduled to come out March 14, 2014 in (ugh) 3D.  (See original article from Io9)

Movies: My Spoiler- Filled Review of Snow White and the Huntsman

Well, folks... I liked it. I did! It is not one of my favorite movies of all time, but it was a very interesting and visually stunning interpretation of the original story. I'm going to proceed to make fun of it and take it apart a little, but please do not forget that I liked it!

Warning: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! I will have blatant disregard for your sensitive ears.

First, may I say, Kristin Stewart did not suck! In fact, she did some beautiful and subtle acting! She had me in her first scene where she is being inappropriately touched, but allows it to go on so she can get info from a guy. She is terrified and disgusted, but is about to escape and needs to keep him occupied to get vital info before she does. You saw all of that flash across her face, and I was like, "Ok, K. Sewart. You've got me." And she carries this throughout most of the film, though there are moments that you have no idea what she is thinking and it just becomes awkward.

Anyway, Charlize Thereon: brilliant. Thor: tiny and vulnerable and I loved him. Best dwarves: Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Brian Gleeson (adorbs), and Johnny Harris. I was a bit disappointed with Bob Hoskins, as all he did was be blind and believe in KStew.

Aw, Nick Frost....

The visuals were jaw-droppingly amazing. Swirling ravens, blood on snow, terrifying fungus induced hallucinations, lots of really disturbing dead birds, fire and battle and...fuzzy snakes. Which I will get to in a second.

I LOVED the simple back story they gave the Queen and her brother ("Brother?" you say? Yes, a brother with a very significant role. "Why did I not see him in the trailers?" I have no idea, he was fascinating.) They are possibly centuries old. They were poor and starving, and their village was attacked by a king. To protect her daughter, the queen's mother gave her (magically) the power of beauty that she could wield over men. She was abducted by the king as her village burned and she has learned never to trust men, to dominate and destroy them, and that her beauty is her power, for if she gets old, she is disposable and ignored. So, she sucks the youth out of women (one of whom is played by a remarkably human-looking Lily Cole) to keep herself young, relevant, and powerful. And since there are no pretty women around for the brother, the only way he can get his rocks off is to rape his sister's victims beforehand. yaaaaay. AND, they didn't have this back story in a final scene "I'm about to kill you, but before I do, let me tell you why I am the way that I am" monologue. It was nicely integrated into the rest of the story.

Anyway, I'm going to be a bit scattered now, and tell you things that were cool, things that were weird, and things that didn't make sense:

I do not understand why Kristin Stewart became the messiah. She had the ability to make plants grow and to heal people all of a sudden. Because she was the rightful queen and nature was so happy to have her back that it went into overdrive? Because somehow the three drops of blood on the snow was a spell that gave her rightful queen powers? And how exactly were the evil queen and she connected? Was it because their mothers both happened to spill 3 drops of blood and wish good for their children? It was not clearly explained, and thus made some of the frolicking with fuzzy animals (and moss-covered snakes, which are good snakes, as opposed to the evil black snakes in the other forest) and ethereal messiah wandering, a little strange. I thought she might start whistling while she worked after a while.

Along a similar vein, the Bright Forest was just as awkward, and a little disturbing, as I thought it was going to be, at least at first. They arrive in the "land of the fairies," and K Stew sees her magpie friends who saved her from the castle, and all of a sudden FAIRIES COME OUT OF THEIR CHESTS! It was highly disturbing. And it did not help that they looked like the cute-but-demonic aliens from Galaxy Quest, and you knew any moment they would eat your face:


Anyway, it turned very Prince Caspian very quickly when K. Stew and her small rag tag army meet Aslan.... I mean the Forest Spirit White Stag thing... and have a very reverent moment. But all the corniness and cheese was worth it when suddenly, the White Stag gets SHOT! And the Queen's forces have invaded the one spot everyone thought was beautiful and safe. If we hadn't spent time with the Disney-ness, the impact of that moment would not have been as palpable. 

Let's talk about LUUURVE. There is surprisingly little romantic love in this movie. I thought that was great. We had the Huntsman, and Snow's childhood friend, William. You got the impression that maybe they were trying to make it a struggle for you to choose which of the two men you wanted her to end up with, but honestly, it was no contest. The only real interaction you see between William and Snow are when they are children, and when he is actually the creepy Queen in disguise. And there, he comes across as kinda skeevy. Otherwise, he is pursuing her, or walking next to her. Any chemistry is lost. Thor, on the other hand, fights with her, saves her, is saved by her, and is solidly in the friend zone, and then drunkenly and adorably confesses his strong feelings (romantic love? unclear.) and compares her to his dead wife and kisses her corpse while his tears fall on her. You want him to win. 

On that note, there is serious awkward happening between Huntsman and K. Stew. towards the battle, and you are not sure why. I thought maybe she remembered his drunken confession, and the kiss that woke her up, and had no idea what to do with it. 

And BTW, there are several moments in the movie where they just don't let something breathe, or don't address an important element of the story. The kiss-waking is another one of those. He pours out his heart to her corpse, another woman he loved that he has failed to protect, and then kisses her and leaves. She wakes up, walks out into the courtyard, and everyone else sees her first. When he sees her, he smiles. SMILES, people. And then just kinda goes with the flow as she gives her rather Dadaist, out of nowhere pre-battle speech. A brilliant quote from the mind of Caitlin Griffin of Drown My Books fame, it's like he is saying "Good job, you! I will process this next week!" 

There are several moments that are edited strangely that don't give significant moments the weight they deserve: like the Artex-like death of the Convenient Steed that K Stew looses in the swamp. Never see his head go under, or her reaction moment of "oh, he's gone." He's just sinking, and then not there in the next shot. Or a dwarf death where you don't see the moment where he dies. Just cut to him, he is struggling, cut to her reaction shot, cut to him - OH you missed it, he's dead. 

Aaaaanyhoodle, there was a prevailing theory in our group (voiced by the amazing CGriff), that K Stew's power came from her innocence. This was nicely underlined when the Huntsman tried to teach her how to fight, and she stated that she would not kill. And she doesn't for most of the movie. There is some debate as to whether she killed anyone in the (rather poorly thought out) epic battle at the end. There was some pushing, and some grunting, but it was unclear whether she had sword on flesh contact. When she rose from the dead (Zombie Princess will lead you into battle!), she said she knew how to defeat the queen. I thought it was going to be something clever, a weakness of the Queen's she would exploit. No no... she stabs her. yaaaaay. And then she stands and looks in the mirror. THAT to me, says "Oh no! She gave up her innocence, and now the whole cycle will start all over again." But it didn't say it in a strong enough way that it felt on purpose. 

The coronation scene at the end of the movie was also suuuuuper awkward. K. Stew gets coronated and is looking rather uncomfortable, but then she sees a squeeky clean Huntsman (touchingly looking more like the self he wants to be, rather than the drunken self he hated), lurking awkwardly at the back of the hall. Why is he not getting rewarded, or at least in a place of honor? He deserves a end of Star Wars: A New Hope medal! Anyway, he starts to smile, and then she smiles, but then there is no cut back to him of them sharing a moment. A "yay, we survived and are friends and its all gonna be ok because you are here" moment, or even an awkward "I don't know what our relationship is, but we will figure it out later" moment. It just cuts to half way down the aisle for a painfully slow pullback out the doors. You end a movie with a solid button, like a close up on her face, smiling, then a quick, dramatic, satisfying pullback to show she is ok, the kingdom is ok, shut the hall doors THE END. Credits. 

Mad props to them for keeping the entire climax of the movie under wraps, though (aside from the epic battle). And for keeping K Stew looking like she was on an adventure (dirty, messy hair), and not flawless and quaffed even though she traveled through sewers. 

To sum up. The movie is flawed, yes. Are there serious plot holes? Yes. Do they not let certain moments breathe? Yes. However, it was still a visually stunning, well-acted version of the Snow White story. 

Here's hoping this encourages other fairy tale movie makers to embrace the dark and gritty. 

Bonus Plot Hole: Why did everyone get healed by K. Stew, and Bob Hoskins still remain blind? Our friend Mullen thinks it was too much a part of who he was now. Like in Quest for Camelot. Stretching? Probably. 

Here are other people who have opinions about the movie:

Jack Zipes: A Grimm Review of Snow White and the Huntsman (He is rather spiky and scholarly about it, and feels the film has nothing to say to the modern world). (EDIT: Check out Christie's response to him over at Spinning Into Gold.)

The New Yorker: Snow White: Beauty is Power (They like the film, and discuss it through the lens of past Snow Whites anc the current movie zeitgeist).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Article: Fairy Tales are Alive and Well (and in the news!)

Little Red Riding Hood
(artist unkown - if you are the artist, let me know, and I will credit you!)

Something to Read for the Train is a fantastic blog of fairy tale musings. The most recent post recalls an article that declaired fairy tales irrelivant, since the world that created them is gone. CRFricke begs to differ, and gives us these fantastic stories:
Once upon a time, a man and a woman are married, and they live near a dark wood. The woman cooks a stew for dinner, but the man complains that it is too cold. They quarrel, and the man storms from the house, and becomes lost in the woods. He is gone for over 30 days. Upon return, he pledges devotion to his wife’s cooking—a happy ending, despite the impending loss of the man’s legs from frostbite: Row Over Cold Soup Leaves Husband Stranded in Frozen Forest for Over a Month
Once upon a time, a man and a woman are married, and they have no children. How the woman wishes for something to care for! She finds a cat. Then another. Then another. Then another and another and another until there are 550 cats for her to love. Her husband fears that they will not be able to feed all of their furry children—or himself, for that matter, as the cats continuously steal his food, the clever beasties. He also fears that his wife’s love for him is no longer as strong, when it must be spread amongst all 551 of them: Man Divorces Wife After She Refuses to Get Rid of Her 550 Cats
Once upon a time, a man and a woman are to be married, to ensure the man’s status in the kingdom. The bride’s mother makes all necessary arrangements, then departs. But when the wedding is to take place, the bride is hidden away from the light, while a false bride takes her place. The man and the false bride treat the girl like a servant and a lowly beast. She is made to sleep, eat, and behave like an animal. She is beaten and ridiculed for years, until a kindly neighbor comes to the bride’s rescue with a camera phone. She is found by authorities in a depleted state near the forest: Bosnian Police Arrest Couple Over Girl’s 8-Year ‘Slavery’
He also discusses Kate Bernheimer's responce to the article , which gives a few more examples why the conditions that gave rise to fairy tales (poverty, psychopaths, fear of abandonment, martial strife, etc) have not disappeared with the feudal system or the aristocracy.
But fairy tales are, at heart, about dysfunction, about a world off-kilter and the normal human’s response to that dysfunction. There’s many the villain in a fairy tale who resembles a modern-day sociopath, and many the short, comic tale that doesn’t end with a wedding, but instead begins with an already married couple, trying to eke out a life together in the midst of annoying personal quirks and lack of proper resources. The happy ending cannot exist with the dysfunction, and occasionally the horror, that preceed it. (see full post)
I would add to this discussion that, yes, the dysfunction and horror of fairy tales is alive and well in our modern age, but so is the happy ending. There are kind people who rise above their circumstances to get the acclaim and position they deserve. There are people who look beyond what society says is beautiful to find love. There are people who go on long journeys (either physical or spiritual) and come out better people. We really haven't changed that much as human beings in 200, 500, or 1,000 years so that fairy tales and myths no longer apply.

It's like Joseph Campbell says, “The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”

Books: Little Red Riding Hood Redux by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Friends

This is a little bit old news, and already reported on by Once Upon a Blog (see her post for a letter from JGL), but since it is so exciting, and one of my very favorite stories, I wanted to post about it too!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of awesome things fame, has collaborated with artists and writers to create a book called Little Red Riding Hood Redux. It is the first issue in his new quarterly publication the hitREcorderly. It looks dark and delicious, funny and sexy! And it includes cut outs! It is the perfect mix of two of my favorite things: fairy tales and awesome silly and fun artistic collaboration.

You can subscribe to the hitREcorderly or just buy the single issue of Little Red here. I did!