Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | The Ice Storm (1997)

Who's in it?: Kevin Kline (Silverado, A Fish Called Wanda, Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Joan Allen (the Bourne movies), Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Ghostbusters, Working Girl, Snow White: A Tale of Terror, Galaxy Quest, The Village), Christina Ricci (The Addams Family, Casper, Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleepy Hollow, Speed Racer), Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings), Tobey Maguire (The Cider House Rules, Spider-Man, Seabiscuit, Satan’s Alley), David Krumholtz (Addams Family Values, 10 Things I Hate About You), Katie Holmes (Batman Begins), Henry Czerny (Clear and Present Danger, Mission: Impossible), and Allison Janney (Miracle on 34th Street, 10 Things I Hate About You, Spy)

What's it about?: Two families in the 1970s struggle with the effects of the sexual revolution over the course of a Thanksgiving weekend.

How is it?: This popped onto my radar because of the fairy tale project I'm working on and a connection the film has to the story of "Little Red Riding Hood." It's not a fun or easy movie to watch, but it's good and thought-provoking. I like it, but it's not something I'll rewatch often.

By coincidence, I watched it closely after seeing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for the first time. That was a cool juxtaposition of themes. Cuckoo’s Nest is a '70s film that documents society's questioning the rules and boundaries of the '50s and early '60s. Jack Nicholson plays a convict who's placed in a psychiatric ward for observation to see if he's actually mentally ill or just acting out. While he's there, he clashes with the head nurse on the ward, a no-nonsense, authoritarian woman who holds tight control over her patients and resents the element of chaos that Nicholson brings to her life. She represents the establishment, Nicholson represents American culture's push back against it, and the film presents both the uplifting and heart-breaking consequences of that conflict.

The Ice Storm, on the other hand, is a '90s film that looks back at the '70s and questions the wisdom of jettisoning all those rules and boundaries without replacing them with something else. The film is primarily interested in attitudes around sex, so the two families at the center of the story all struggle with that in various ways. Some of the adults are questioning the value of fidelity in marriage just as their teenage children are beginning to experiment with each other's bodies. But rather than feeling liberated by their new sexual freedom, the various characters are as trapped and unhappy as anyone in a '50s suburban melodrama.

The film gave me a lot to think about and it's presented extremely well with great acting and Ang Lee's typically excellent direction. I especially love the metaphors. For starters there's the symbolism of the ice storm itself that moves in over the weekend and makes everyone's life more dangerous. It suggests that navigating sex without rules is like walking or driving on ice. It feels exhilarating, but it's also an easy way to get hurt.

But more appropriate to my fairy tale project is that one of the families is named Hood and a couple of the teenage characters (Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood) wear red hoods throughout the film. Of course that calls Little Red Riding Hood to mind with the implication being that '70s America has naively wandered off the path and found itself in deep trouble.

One of my favorite relationships in the film is between Ricci's character Wendy and her dad, Ben, played by Kevin Kline. Ben is having an affair with their next door neighbor (Sigourney Weaver), but is very upset about catching Wendy fooling around with the neighbor's son (Elijah Wood). This strains their relationship and Ben has a hard time figuring out the appropriate way to feel about it. Wendy seems very grown-up and rational and Ben is the emotional one, so how can he parent her under those conditions? Especially when he has no moral high ground to stand on? So late in the movie after a big argument, they're walking home and Wendy intentionally steps in a big puddle just to show that she doesn't care and can do whatever she wants. They argue a bit more and the conversation goes nowhere until Ben asks her if she's cold and wants him to carry her. It's my favorite part of the movie when she agrees and climbs into his arms.

I don't love it because the parent has triumphed over the child. Ben doesn't even think of it as a victory. It's just a sweet, quiet moment where they both pull back from the freedom they've been so eager to explore and allow themselves the comfort of a structured relationship. That can't last forever and they both know it, but it's beautiful in the moment. 

Rating: Three out of five modern Red Riding Hoods

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Fourth Chair Army Invasion | Walt Disney World

As Summer winds down, I'm joined by Walt Disney World superfans Corey Chapman, Lizzie Twachtman, and Mike Westfall to talk about our favorite parks, rides, resorts, and food at The Most Magical Place on Earth. We also create some attractions, lands, and even a movie or two that we'd love to see.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Thanks, Jack!

Jack Tyler is a writer of cool steampunk stories as well as just a cool, enthusiastic and encouraging fellow himself. On his website lately, he's been blogging about other writers he's enjoying and he gave a very lovely shout out to me:
Michael’s blog posts and podcasts are more discussions than recommendations. They go heavily into depth, and they talk about virtually every aspect of the culture we’re surrounded by every waking moment.
Thank you so much, Jack. I have a great time doing this and it means a lot when folks let me know that they appreciate it.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Lonesome Dove (1989)

In this Texas-sized episode, Pax and I cover the classic mini-series starring Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and a supporting cast as big as the story itself. Also: Pax reads Larry McMurtry's Buffalo Girls while I do something Westerny for Fathers Day and read a Mickey Mouse Weird West comic.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Fables, Part 1: Legends in Exile

Writer Bill Willingham wasn't the first to mash various fairy tale characters together into a single story: The 10th Kingdom and Shrek being two notable, earlier examples and from just a year or two before. But he was the first to do it as an exercise that took the original stories seriously and tried to imagine what it might actually be like for these characters to interact in a shared world. Like in The 10th Kingdom, Willingham uproots the characters from their traditional homelands and replants them in modern New York City, but that's where the similarities end.

Willingham is interested in exploring these characters through a variety of genres, starting with a good, old-fashioned murder mystery. As the comic book series Fables opens, the classic fairy tale characters have been driven out of their traditional homelands by a mysterious and nameless Adversary. Some have been able to hold onto their wealth, but many haven't. Those who can pass for human live together in a Manhattan neighborhood called Fabletown. Those who can't (talking animals, gingerbread men, etc.) have to live somewhere else. Willingham gets to that later. The first story, "Legends in Exile," focuses on the human fables and an apparent murder that takes place among them.

The mayor of Fabletown is Old King Cole, but it's actually Snow White who runs the day-to-day operations. And the Big Bad Wolf (changed to human form through magic and nicknamed "Bigby") is the community's sheriff. The plot kicks off when Jack (of Beanstalk and Giant-Killing fame) comes to Bigby with the report that his girlfriend Rose Red has gone missing and there's blood all over her apartment. The story follows Bigby's investigation and it's pretty great as he knowingly hits all the beats of a classic detective story and calls attention to them in a meta way as he does. He doesn't get many opportunities to play this role and he's having as much fun investigating as Willingham clearly is writing it.

But the coolest thing about the series is Willingham's decision to conserve the number of characters by consolidating them when possible. So Bigby was not only the being who tried to seduce and murder Red Riding Hood, he was also the one who terrorized the Three Little Pigs. Any fairy story with a Jack as a main character (and there are a lot): those were the same person. In fairy tales, Snow White of the Seven Dwarfs is a different person from the one in "Snow White and Rose Red," but not in Fables. And you know how Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty all got married to a Prince Charming? Same guy. He may be charming, but he's also super unfaithful.

"Legends in Exile" introduces a ton of characters. Too many to mention them all, but some of my favorites are Beauty and the Beast, the Frog Prince (who works as a janitor at the Fabletown offices), Little Boy Blue (Snow White's assistant), and Bluebeard (the infamous wife-murderer who's still a terrifyingly threatening presence). Former villains like Bluebeard and Bigby are protected by a unity-encouraging amnesty that prevents them from being punished for any crimes they committed before the Exile.

There's a lot here, but it's just a hint at an even deeper world and mysteries that Willingham and his collaborating artists (Lan Medina in this first story) will eventually reveal. I read up to a certain point as the comics originally came out, but I'm looking forward to finally finishing the story as part of this fairy tale project I'm working on.

Monday, July 29, 2019

'Casting Off | Jaws (1975)

Just in time for Shark Week, David and I invite Jaws fan extraordinaire Dan Taylor into the shark cage for a deep dive into the film that launched a few legendary careers and started the summer blockbuster phenomenon.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mystery Movie Night | Jaws (1975), The Star Chamber (1983), and The Three Musketeers (2011)

Ron Ankeny joins me, Dave, David, and Evan to discuss sharks of the marine, legal, and double-crossing varieties. Which would be a cool connection, come to think of it, but there's another one, too.

00:02:28 - Review of Jaws (1975)
00:15:44 - Review of The Star Chamber (1983)
00:32:25 - Review of The Three Musketeers (2011)
00:52:00 - Guessing the Connection


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