Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Shrek (2001)

Who's in it?: Mike Myers (Wayne's World, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop, The Golden Child), Cameron Diaz (The Mask, My Best Friend's Wedding, Charlie's Angels), and John Lithgow (The Manhattan Project, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Daddy's Home Two).

What's it about?: When a self-absorbed noble (Lithgow) forcefully relocates all the fairy tale creatures to a remote swamp, the ogre (Myers) who inhabits the swamp strikes a deal to rescue a princess (Diaz) in exchange for getting his privacy back.

How is it?: I always groan a little at the thought of watching a Shrek movie. My immediate associations are that the films are funny, but full of dated pop culture references and unattractive character designs (especially of the human characters). But then I watch one and remember why they're so popular.

I'll focus just on the first one for this entry, because I do plan to watch and write about the others, but while I still don't like the design of the human characters, the humor is much more personality-based and enduring than I ever remember and there's a lot of heart. There are a lot less fairy tale references in the first one, too. The fairy tale characters are used to kickstart the plot, but the film is really all about Shrek, his unwelcome sidekick Donkey (Murphy), and Princess Fiona. Also Lord Farquaad, who doesn't end up being much of a threat, but mostly it's about Shrek and Fiona's overcoming prejudices, expectations, and insecurities, with Donkey cheering them on.

There are some great fairy tale gags in the beginning though. I love Pinocchio's falsetto voice and his untrue insistence that he's a real boy. He's humorously annoying enough that I also love that Geppetto turns him over to Farquaad's men without a word. There's also a fun comparison between Snow White, Cinderella, and Fiona, with Fiona being the most desirable choice between the three (at least for the selfish, unfeeling Farquaad). The best gag though is undoubtedly the interrogation of the Gingerbread Man with the whole Muffin Man conversation.

But again, the whole movie is very funny to me, including the anachronistic references, but especially MVP Eddie Murphy's being funnier than he's been since the '80s. I still don't love the whole movie, but it ends up being super rewatchable.

Rating: 4 out of 5 gingerbread men.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | The Man from Snowy River (1982)

Pax and I jaw about George Miller's (not that George Miller, though) Australian Western. One of us remembered loving it; the other remembered hating it. Have we changed our minds? Do we agree? What happened to Cookie's leg? A couple of those questions actually get answered.

Also: DC Comics discussion as Pax reads the early adventures of Bat Lash and I check out the beginning of the 2006 Jonah Hex series.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Nerd Lunch | Tim Burton Batman Movies

Four years ago, the Nerd Lunch gang invited me and Batman fan extraordinaire Jay Ryan to talk about all things Batman for the Caped Crusader's 75th anniversary. This week, the band got back together to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Batman '89 by focusing specifically on the two Tim Burton movies.

That's always a fun group to talk with and I had a great time revisiting both movies. Especially Batman Returns which I traditionally haven't liked, but found some new things to enjoy about it this time.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Mystery Movie Night | Robin Hood (1973), Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island (1983), and Return to Oz (1985)

Paxton Holley doesn't just join Dave, David, Evan, and I on the panel, he also picks the movies in this special episode about rogues, reruns, and rock monsters.

00:03:20 - Review of Robin Hood (1973)
00:16:17 - Review of Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island (1983)
00:30:08 - Review of Return to Oz (1985)
00:50:54 - Guessing the Connection

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | The 10th Kingdom (2000)

Who's in it?: Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Father of the Bride), Dianne Wiest (The Lost Boys, Bullets Over Broadway, Practical Magic), John Larroquette (Night Court, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), Ed O'Neill (Married... with Children, Modern Family), Rutger Hauer (Nighthawks, Blade Runner, Ladyhawke, The Hitcher, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sin City), Dawnn Lewis (A Different World), Ann-Margret (The Flintstones, Stagecoach, The Train Robbers, The Villain, Grumpy Old Men), and Warwick Davis (Return of the Jedi, Willow).

What's it about?: An evil queen (Wiest) turns a prince into a dog so that she can take over his kingdom, but he escapes through a portal to modern day New York City (aka the 10th Kingdom) where he meets a young woman (Williams-Paisley) and her shiftless father (Larroquette).

How is it?: This TV miniseries has been recommended to me for a while by friends and family who know my fondness for fairy tales. And I was super excited by the cast, especially Williams-Paisley because I love the '90s Father of the Bride movies and she's great in them. I was also curious about its being an early example of fairy tale mashups before that became a popular thing to do. It predates Shrek by a year, the Fables comic by two, and Once Upon a Time by over a decade.

Sadly, I couldn't finish the first episode. It's not really a mashup of known characters. The evil queen is generic and the prince she's fighting is Snow White's grandson. The "wolf" (Scott Cohen) she sends to New York in pursuit of the escaped prince is also generic. I see from the cast list that characters named Snow White and Cinderella (Ann-Margret) eventually show up, but I didn't get that far. The lack of specific fairy tale characters was a minor issue though compared to the overall tone of the story.

It's very silly and full of slapstick. The Queen sends two parties to New York: first a group of trolls (one of whom is Dawnn Lewis) and then the wolf (changed into human form) that I mentioned before. The trolls are bumbling; no threat at all. The wolf is more persistent and successful, but he quickly "falls in love" with Williams-Paisley's character, by which I mean that his desire to eat her conflicts with his desire to have sex with her. That could make some fascinating drama and commentary on the Red Riding Hood story if it was at all taken seriously, but it's not and the wolf is just ridiculous. Reading ahead, I see that Williams-Paisley later falls in love with him, which is a development I'm not curious to see. Even if he weren't super creepy, he's still dumb and weird. I couldn't get into any of these characters or their story.

Rating: Two out of five Annie Banks.

Addendum: I've been hammering hard on these entries to get ready for the next Filthy Horrors recording, but a couple of things have happened to make me slow down. One is that we're recording the fairy tale episode earlier than I originally thought, so I don't have as much time as I thought I would. The other thing though is that the next thing I'm planning to watch is Shrek, which has its charms, but is more silliness right on the heels of The 10th Kingdom. Frankly, my enthusiasm is a bit deflated. There's still some stuff in the queue that I'm super curious and excited about, so I'm going to keep this project going, but I'm not going to try to get it all done before we record the FH episode. So this is the last entry probably for a week or so until I get past some other deadlines.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fourth Chair Army Invasion | The Men in Black Trilogy

Are they excellent scifi comedies, disposable popcorn flicks, or a threat to all life on this planet? Annaliese Trammel, Chris Bailey, and I drill deep into the first three Men in Black movies as well as the comics (thanks to Chris!). We talk about what works, what doesn't, and what it all could mean for Men in Black: International.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

Who's in it?: Drew Barrymore (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Wedding Singer, Charlie's Angels, Whip It), Anjelica Huston (Lonesome Dove, The Addams Family, John Wick: Chapter 3), Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible II, but not X-Men), Patrick Godfrey (A Room with a View), Melanie Lynskey (Over the Garden Wall, Castle Rock), Timothy West (I know him from an adaptation of Bleak House, but he also played the same character as Patrick Godfrey in a TV version of A Room with a View), Jeroen Krabbé (The Living Daylights, The Fugitive), and Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger, The Hunger Games).

What's it about?: The "real" events that inspired the Cinderella legend.

How is it?: First of all, I love Drew Barrymore. I'm a big fan. And Angelica Huston is amazing as the stepmother who had the potential to become a good person if only she'd spent more time with Cinderella (called Danielle here) and her father (Krabbé). Huston's character clearly cares about her new husband, but loses him too quickly and the blended family never blends.

The entire cast is great and I love the weird addition of Leonardo da Vinci (Godfrey) to the story as a sort of romantic adviser to the prince (Scott). I mean, I disagree entirely with da Vinci's assertion that there is only one potential soul mate for each person, but he's such a charming, well-intentioned character and his ultimate advice is exactly what we want the prince to hear. And he makes boat shoes for walking on water.

I also like that Danielle's sisters aren't a homogeneous unit, but have their own personalities and that their mother has a favorite between them. It's not Lynskey's character and the result is that she gets a nice arc that most Cinderella stepsisters don't.

The deconstructive take is a fun experiment that succeeds. There's no fairy godmother, but Danielle has plenty of support to become her own fairy helper (including wings) and get herself to the ball. And it's cool that the whole thing is told in flashback by a descendant of Danielle to the Brothers Grimm, making this sort of an unofficial sequel to Terry Gilliam's movie about them.

The only think I don't like is that Ever After uses a standard romantic comedy plot to structure Danielle and the Prince's relationship around. It does this very well, but it's still annoying that their relationship is built on a lie she tells and that his discovering it leads to a tragic separation, followed by a dramatic apology and reunion. Again, the movie is really effective at pulling that off, but the predictability of it bruises an otherwise great adaptation.

Rating: Four out of five actually sooty Cinderellas.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | The Wonderful World of Disney: "Cinderella" (1997)

Who's in it?: Brandy Norwood (I Still Know What You Did Last Summer), Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard, The Preacher's Wife), Paolo Montalban (Mortal Kombat: Conquest), Bernadette Peters (The Jerk, Annie, Faerie Tale Theatre), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Orville), Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Victor Garber (Alias, Justice, Eli Stone, The Orville).

What's it about?: An updated version of the Rogers and Hammerstein televised musical.

How is it?: The Disney version makes some huge improvements over the original 1957 broadcast. First, it racially diversifies the cast in cool ways. It has King Victor Garber married to Queen Whoopi Goldberg in order to beget Prince Paolo Montalban and it just doesn't care how that works out genetically. It's a fairy tale. Likewise, stepmother Bernadette Peters' biological daughters are of different races. There are ways to explain that logically if you want to, but the story accepts it as normal. I like that a lot.

The production also fixes some of my issues with the way Cinderella herself was presented in the '57 version. Julie Andrews' character was especially powerless and I hated her song about how her only refuge is to retreat into "my own little corner in my own little chair." Turns out, Andrews and director Ralph Nelson affected my opinion about that more than I realized by having Cinderella sing the song mostly from her little chair. She felt very small and defeated. Brandy on the other hand (under the direction of Robert Iscove) is energetic and animated. She sings about being trapped, but she's bouncing all over the kitchen as she does it. She's not exactly subverting the lyrics, but she does demonstrate that she hasn't entirely given in yet, unlike Andrews.

Disney's version similarly overhauls the scene where Cinderella and her fairy godmother sing about the usefulness of wishing. In '57, Cinderella comes up with the outlandish ideas of hoping that a pumpkin turns into a carriage, etc., and then defends her dream to her apparently skeptical godmother. In '97, the godmother (Houston) plants the idea in Cinderella's head and nudges her towards the solutions she's looking for. The godmother is very much trying to get Cinderella to make decisions and take actions by herself.

That's similar to how Shelley Duvall's version of the story went, too. Houston's character insists that Cinderella is perfectly capable of winning the Prince over and escaping her horrible home life by herself (and those two goals aren't even necessarily connected); the godmother just gives her a supportive push.

As a production, the '97 version is top notch. The sets are great, the choreography around the songs is dynamic, and the whole cast is colorful and fun. I haven't mentioned Jason Alexander's role yet, but he's the royal... I don't know, steward? Party planner? Sidekick? He was a Grand Duke in the classic animated version. The guy in charge of planning the ball and eventually tracking down the owner of the glass slipper with the prince. Alexander is great as the stuffy, but sarcastic servant who deftly manages all the royal whims and protects the prince from the stepmother and her daughters at the ball.

Rating: Four out of five Bernadette Frickin' Peters

Saturday, June 08, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Little Red Riding Hood (1997)

Who's in it?: Christina Ricci (The Addams Family, Casper, Sleepy Hollow, Speed Racer)

What's it about?: A short, artsy adaptation of "Little Red Riding Hood."

How is it?: I love the artfulness of it, but I've heard other viewers describe it as pretentious. It's more or less a silent film, narrated with a voiceover instead of having title cards. And it's filmed in black-and-white. But the most controversial choice is probably having ballet danseur Timour Bourtasenkov play the wolf. In the fairy tale, the wolf is a hyper-masculine figure to the point that some interpreters see his devouring Red as an allegory for rape. In contrast, Bourtasenkov's movements are sensual and seductive. He's wooing Red; not forcing her.

And Red reciprocates. Ricci is the perfect actor for this and seduces the wolf right back beneath a veneer of innocence. This isn't a Red who's learning to be wary. She's already quite confident and resourceful.

There's precedence for this interpretation in the oral tradition of the story. In The Annotated Brothers Grimm, Maria Tatar talks about a 19th century French version of the tale in which Red performs a striptease for the wolf and then escapes by going outside to relieve herself. In another version, the wolf puts parts of Grandmother in the pantry and invites Red to help herself, which she does. All of these things happen in this film. Red is especially deliberate and intentional about taking a bite of the Grandmother stew. She has the wolf exactly where she wants him.

Stories are funny creatures and oral stories have especially strange histories. It's easy to pin down Charles Perrault's point because he spells it out for you in his morals. And once you know what mattered to the Grimms, it's not that hard to figure out what they wanted their audiences to learn either. But nameless storytellers across a wide range of history are tougher to define. Was Red originally a trickster character who was modified by Perrault and the Grimms to become more innocent? Or was she initially innocent, but changed by some storytellers who wanted a more kickass version? Fortunately, there's a book by Catherine Orenstein called Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked that can potentially answer that. The subtitle is "Sex, Morality, And The Evolution Of A Fairy Tale." I haven't read it, but I'm going to.

Rating: Four out of five Red Riding Riccis.

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | The Grimm Brothers' Snow White, or Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)

Who's in it?: Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, The Village), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Crusoe, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and Monica Keena (While You Were Sleeping).

What's it about?: A widowed nobleman (Neill) marries an insecure woman (Weaver) with dark powers, but his daughter (Keena) is less than welcoming to her new stepmother, instigating a series of horrifying tragedies and betrayals.

How is it?: I'm not clear on which name came first, but the print I watched has The Grimm Brothers' Snow White in the titles and that's also the name on what appears to be the original poster (above). Every place else though, it's called Snow White: A Tale of Terror. But even though IMDb lists that as the "original title," it feels like a post-release marketing move; letting home video audiences know that this is a dark, horrific version of the classic fairy tale. Whichever was first, I like the version with the Grimms' name, because Michael Cohn's film is clearly working from their version as his inspiration.

Like in the Grimms' story, Weaver's character is the protagonist, at least at first. She's not a queen, nor are Neill and Keena a king or princess. This is a grounded version of the story that keeps the fantastical elements to a minimum. Snow White is never called Snow White, she's just Lilli Hoffman. Her father is Frederick Hoffman and her stepmother is named Claudia. The Hoffmans are wealthy, live in a castle, and are clearly influential in their area, but they aren't royalty. And though Claudia is a witch with a mirror, her powers have more to do with potions and sympathetic magic than actual sorcery. Her mirror's power is ultimately undefined, but the film leaves open multiple interpretations about it. I like to think that it's all in Claudia's head, but that's a tough reading considering that the mirror does affect another person at one point.

Claudia clearly enters her new marriage with good intentions, but when she's rejected by young Lili (played by a 12-year-old actor named Taryn Davis in those scenes) and Frederick continues to dote on his daughter and talk about how much she reminds him of his deceased wife, Claudia's low self-esteem becomes unmanageable and she starts plotting ways to increase her security in her new home. This is very much in line with the motivations suggested in the Grimms' story and it's impossible not to feel sorry for Claudia until she takes things too far.

There's no huntsman in this version. Instead, Claudia has a brother whom she orders to murder Lili. And when Lili escapes, she discovers a secret hideout in the forest belonging not to dwarfs, but to a group of bandits, many of whom have been unjustly outlawed and outcast for various reasons. Some of them have deformities, which causes Lily to question the value of physical beauty.

And that's the real message of the film. Lili has grown up hearing that she's beautiful, including the story about how her mom wished for her after seeing red blood on the white snow through a black window frame. The story of the wish is straight from the Grimms, but in the film it's a childish tale meant to make Lili feel loved and connected to her mother. Add that to a thousand other attentions and Lili becomes a bit spoiled and focused on physical attractiveness. Which then combats explosively with Claudia's hangups about beauty. By the end of the film, Lili has taken over as protagonist, because she's the one who learns something from these experiences.

This is never going to be a definitive version for me, because of all the deconstruction it does to the fairy tale, but it's a fascinating and powerful take.

Rating: Four out of five Sandra Bullock's sisters-in-law.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Freeway (1996)

Who's in it?: Reese Witherspoon (Friends, Legally Blonde, Monsters vs. Aliens), Kiefer Sutherland (The Lost Boys, Young Guns, The Three Musketeers, 24), Dan Hedaya (Cheers, The Addams Family, Alien Resurrection), Brooke Shields (The Blue Lagoon, Brenda Starr, Suddenly Susan), Brittany Murphy (Sin City), and Bokeem Woodbine (Underground, Spider-Man: Homecoming).

What's it about?: A modern version of "Red Riding Hood" in which a teenage girl has to deal with a metaphorical wolf on her way to her grandmother's house.

How is it?: Much darker than I expected, but that's probably on me. "Red Riding Hood" is a dark story to begin with.

Witherspoon plays an illiterate teenager named Vanessa Lutz who refuses to go back into the foster care system when her mom is arrested (again) for prostitution and drug possession. Vanessa steals a car and heads to the Interstate to find her grandmother, whom she's never met, in hopes of being able to stay with her. But when her car breaks down, she's given a lift by a seemingly kindly child psychologist (Sutherland) who turns out to be a serial killer. And then it gets weird.

There was a point in the film where it felt like everything was wrapping up, but it seemed early, so I checked the time. The film was only half over. To talk about this, I need to spoil a couple of things, but I won't talk about anything from the final act. If you think you might want to watch it though and remain completely clean going in, stop reading now. Otherwise, I have more to say about the plot and some of the themes of the film. I ended up liking the movie.


About halfway through the film (not even quite that), Vanessa gets away from Bob Wolverton (Sutherland) and shoots him a bunch of times. I mean, a bunch of times. She'd prefer to turn him in, but he's convinced her that it would be her word against his and that people would believe him. Class discrimination is a big theme of the film with Vanessa as a poster child for the disadvantaged. She's uneducated and has her own criminal background, but she's smart, brave, and oh so very capable of taking care of herself. At any rate, she believes that killing Bob is the only way to prevent him from hurting more girls.

Unfortunately, Bob lives. He's severely disfigured, but that and his upper-middle class status - with his attractive, supportive wife (Shields) as his spokesperson - enables him to claim victimhood from Vanessa. The sheriff (Hedaya) arrests her, there's a trial, she goes to jail... and the movie keeps going. (Woodbine has a small role as Vanessa's boyfriend; I just wanted to mention him in the Who's In It? because I really like that guy.)

Writer/director Matthew Bright made it really tough to root for Vanessa unconditionally. She's had a really tough life and I empathize with her a lot, but she ends up hurting some people that I wish she hadn't (not Bob; he deserves everything). I feel like that's Bright's point though and I enjoyed the conundrum that he and Witherspoon put me in. Vanessa is a great character, even if she isn't a total hero.

Rating: Three out of five badass Reese Witherspoons.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | Bad Girls (1994)

Pax and I are again joined by our wives Stephanie and Diane to weigh in on another women-centric Western, this one starring a Who's Who of '90s stars: Madeleine Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie MacDowell, Drew Barrymore, Robert Loggia, and Dermot Mulroney.

Also: I watch Adam Baldwin in The Legend of 5 Mile Cave and Pax catches up to Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Snow White (1987)

Who's in it?: Diana Rigg (The Avengers, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, The Great Muppet Caper), Sarah Patterson (The Company of Wolves), and Billy Barty (Legend, Masters of the Universe, Willow).

What's it about?: A surprisingly faithful adaptation of the Grimm Brothers' story by way of Rankin-Bass specials and '80s fantasy movies.

How is it?: I wanted to see this because it's the one other thing that Sarah Patterson did in the '80s besides The Company of Wolves. And of course Diana Rigg as the Queen was irresistible. Billy Barty as one of the dwarfs sounded promising, too. I love him in Legend.

I got real nervous when the first character broke into song though. And a pretty bad song at that. This was made by Cannon Films, the notoriously low budget company, during the Golan-Globus era when they were cranking out stuff like Delta Force, the Sho Kosugi ninja trilogy, and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Not that those aren't all fun and great in their own ways. It just demonstrates the level of quality we're talking about here. And indeed their Snow White is fun and great in its own way, too.

That first song was horrible and none of the songs would make it into a Disney film, but a lot of them are charming enough. The best of them are about the same level of quality as a Rankin-Bass Christmas special. Any time the dwarfs sing is pretty cool and Snow White herself has a couple of good numbers. If that's really Patterson's singing voice, I don't know why she didn't have a longer career.

The dwarfs are pretty awesome in an '80s fantasy movie way. They look terrifying in the poster above, but the filmmakers spent some money on makeup, so the dwarfs are more than just costumes. They're charmingly acted, quite physical, and just generally a joy to watch.

Patterson is also good, though she's only in the last third of the movie. Snow White as a child is played by a younger, equally good actor named Nicola Stapleton who's gone on to have a successful TV career in the UK. She stays in the film up to when Snow White discovers the dwarfs' cottage; at which point years pass and she grows into Patterson. That interpretation is possible in the Grimms' story, which is vague about Snow White's age. She appears to be a young girl when the Queen orders her death, but is clearly of marrying age by the end. Where the growth takes place is open to interpretation and I like that this version makes an unusual choice with it.

In most ways Cannon's version sticks very close to the Grimms; sometimes to its disadvantage. Snow White comes across pretty dumb when she falls for all three of the Queen's appearances at the cottage. The Queen wears different disguises in each, but Snow White ridiculously takes the dwarfs' warnings extremely literally, so if they say, "Don't let anyone in the house," Snow White thinks it's fine to stand in the door and let a stranger comb her hair. This is absolutely in keeping with Snow White's intelligence in the Grimms' story, but I expect better out of adaptations.

And while Riggs' Queen is deliciously campy, the script isn't at all interested in her motivations as an actual human being. We're told up front that she's Evil and so she is. She's vain of course, but that's as deep as it goes. Similarly, the hunter decides not to kill Snow White for no other reason than because that's how the story goes.

With all this faithfulness to the source material, I was looking forward to seeing if the Queen would die by dancing herself to death in hot, iron shoes, but sadly the film doesn't go that far. It does have her show up at the wedding and die there, but it's due to a mistake she's made in her own anger, not because Snow and the Prince take revenge. It's satisfying, but like so much else with the film, it's not all that it could have been.

Rating: Three out of five droll dwarves.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | The Company of Wolves (1984)

Who's in it?: Angela Lansbury (Gaslight, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Murder, She Wrote) David Warner (Time Bandits, the George C Scott Christmas Carol, Star Treks V and VI), and Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, The Musketeer, Underworld Awakening)

What's it about?: A sleeping girl (Sarah Patterson) dreams of another life in which she experiences an expanded version of the events of Little Red Riding Hood.

How is it?: This must have been on the shelves in the video store I worked in as a teenager, because I remember seeing it dozens of times in the '80s. I was so in love with the gothic aesthetic and the fairy tale and the werewolves and just the sheer weirdness of the plot. And maybe a little bit with Patterson herself.

It was directed by avant-garde filmmaker Neil Jordan (his second film) and it feels deeply personal. Jordan worked with novelist Angela Carter to adapt her short story by the same name. The structure is cool and strange with Patterson playing a modern girl named Rosaleen who's sleeping and dreaming about her and her family in medieval times. In the dream, her older sister (whom she doesn't get along with in real life) is killed by wolves, sending the forest village into a panic. David Warner plays her dad, Swedish actor Tusse Silberg plays her mother, and Angela Lansbury is her grandmother who of course lives deep in the woods by herself.

Inspired by the local interest in wolves, Grandmother tells Rosaleen lots of stories about wolves (which always turn out to be werewolves) and these are enacted on screen as well. So there are all of these stories within a dream, turning The Company of Wolves into sort of an anthology film. There's a werewolf transformation in every one and they're all different from each other and original. I don't think I've seen anything like them before or since.

The locations and sets in the film are wonderfully atmospheric and captivating, both the modern day manor and the medieval forest village. And Jordan does a great job depicting the wolves as both frighteningly deadly and alluringly social creatures, usually at the same time. Some films seem like they were made specifically with you in mind. This is one of mine.

Rating: Five out of five wedding wolves.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | "Little Red Riding Hood" by The Brothers Grimm

Illustration by "KC" (uncredited artist from a 1923 anthology)

The Brothers Grimm add a rescue story to the end of Charles Perrault's horror version, but otherwise their point is more or less the same: "Don't talk to strangers." When Red Riding Hood's mother sends her to Grandmother's house, she instructs, "Look straight ahead like a good little girl and don't stray from the path." Excessive curiosity it apparently a problem for the child, because Mom also says that when Red get to Grandmother's, she shouldn't "go poking around in all the corners of the house."

Of course, Red's overly curious mind also makes her dangerously trusting and it's the squashing of these traits that the story is all about. In fact, the Grimms include an epilogue in which Red makes another trip to Grandmother's and is again accosted by a wolf, but reacts with confidence and sufficiency, leading to a much different result.

There's a lot more that can to be gathered from the story. It's simple enough that scholars have assigned endless meanings to it. Some of them are ridiculous, like how the wolf eats Grandmother and Red whole because he's got pregnancy envy. Others I quite like, for instance how the cakes and wine that Red carries to Grandmother might represent Christian Communion.

I don't want to read too deeply into that one, but even if Communion isn't the intended meaning of the meal, the Grimms clearly state that the food is intended to heal Grandmother in some way, with the most natural reading being physical. When the wolf gets to Grandmother's house, Grandmother can't come to the door, because she's too sick to get out of bed. For all her naivety, Red is an heroic figure out to rescue Grandmother.

If the cakes and wine do represent Communion, then it just adds a spiritual element to Grandmother's physical condition. She's also sick in her soul and Communion is supposed to help with that. Lending some support to this idea is the Grimms' changing the location of Grandmother's house. In Perrault, she lives in a village on the other side of the woods, so that Red has to go through the forest to get there. In the Grimms' version, Grandmother lives smack in the middle of the forest. She's part of the Wild, which suggests that she may be lost herself, in a spiritual sense.

There's so much to unpack with this story. I'm looking forward to watching some adaptations and see how they handle it.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | "Little Red Riding Hood" by Charles Perrault

Illustration by Warwick Goble

Charles Perrault's version of "Little Red Riding Hood" is a straight up horror story. His stated moral for it is all about Stranger Danger. There's no last-minute save by a woodsman (even though some are mentioned earlier in the story as being in the area). The final words of the tale are:
"The better to eat you with." 
Upon saying these words, the wicked wolf threw himself on Little Red Riding Hood and gobbled her up.
His moral is equally terrifying. It includes a warning that "not all wolves are exactly the same. Some are perfectly charming [...] following young ladies right into their homes" and ends with, "Watch out if you haven't learned that tame wolves are the most dangerous of all."



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