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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Nerd Lunch | Kung Fu Theater: 5 Fingers of Death

The Nerd Lunch fellas asked if I would join them for a discussion of Five Fingers of Death (1972), the film that launched the '70s kung-fu craze in the US and directly inspired the creation of Marvel's Iron Fist character and a lot of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. I don't know a lot about kung fu cinema, but that didn't stop me from watching and talking about it.

It was a fun conversation and made me want to dig deeper not only into the martial arts genre, but other Asian cinema as well. In fact, with the help of some friends on Letterboxd, I created a long list of Asian Cinema To Dos for me to work through.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Hellbent for Letterbox | One Eyed Jacks (1961)

Pax and I muse about Marlon Brando's only directing credit, a complicated film in terms of both production and the depth of its characters and their relationships.

Also, I watch The Wind (2018) and Pax catches up on his Bat Lash reading.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Keeping Fairy Tales Fluid

I've started reading The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, edited by Maria Tatar, and something jumped out at me in her Introduction. It has to do with the advantages of oral storytelling and the dangers of canonizing specific versions in an archive.

It's great that people like Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers recorded versions of fairy tales for posterity, but we lose something when we sit down alone to read a story that way. Hans Christian Andersen was famous for crafting his own fairy tales, but he also loved to read existing fairy tales to children and he was quite animated about it. He put his own personality into the telling and kids loved to listen to him.

Tatar writes, "Reading these stories (in the way Andersen did) is a way of reclaiming them, turning them into our cultural stories by inflecting them in new ways and in some cases rescripting what happened." She goes on to say, "The fairy tales in (The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales) did not require editorial intervention in an earlier age, precisely because they were brought up to date by their tellers and tailored to the cultural context in which they were told."

In other words, the reason that so many earlier versions existed is because oral storytellers kept changing them based on the needs and interests of a) them as storytellers and b) their audiences. That's a "no duh" kind of statement, but the implication of it hit me in a new way. If I only know one version of "Little Red Riding Hood" from a specific book and I only tell my child that one version of the story, then I'm limiting the kind of experience he can have. Knowing other variations helps parents adapt the stories for - and more importantly, with - their kids. For instance, the fates of Cinderella's stepsisters and Little Red Riding Hood are very different from version to version, even just from Perrault to Grimm. Which is the "correct" or "true" version is up to the teller, but also the hearer.

Different hearers focus on different things from the same story. According to Tatar, Angela Carter heard "Little Red Riding Hood" and giggled when her grandmother pretended to gobble her up while telling it. Luciano Pavarotti connected to the horror of it, saying, "I identified with Little Red Riding Hood. I had the same fears as she. I didn't want her to die." Charles Dickens wrote that Red was his "first love" and that "I felt that if I could have married Little Red Riding Hood, I should have known perfect bliss." Is "Little Red Riding Hood" a thrilling adventure, a horror story, or a romance? It can be all three and more, especially if the teller is observant enough to know what the listener wants to take away from it and is willing to modify it accordingly.

When I think about this as a writer, I get a little uncomfortable with it, because it gets very close to the attitude of fan entitlement. But collaboration between teller and hearer in an oral story is different from a reader (or viewer) demanding specific details in a piece of finished art. For one thing, the collaboration in oral fairy tales is traditionally between an adult and a child. And the adult did not create the story from whole cloth to begin with. There's no sense of ownership by the teller, so when they give the story to the child, the act is all about giving the child what she wants to receive. It's a selfless act, as is so much of good parenting. It's a very different thing when a storyteller presents her story to an adult audience as a finished piece of art and the audience childishly demands something other than what they've been given. The teller/hearer agreement is not the same in both situations.

Back to fairy tales, the very act of writing them down changes the teller/hearer relationship. With a written version, the teller is no longer the parent, but the person who wrote it down. The hearer is still the hearer, but there's no way to literally change the story as it's being told. That kind of action is done internally by the hearer as she develops her own head canon. Which is the same kind of thing we do with Star Wars and Game of Thrones. It's a valid activity (within limits), but it's not the same as interacting directly with the storyteller as the story is being told.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Fourth Chair Army Invasion | Magnum PI, Season 1

Evan Hanson, Rob Graham, and I are joined by Nerd Lunch's Jeeg to talk about the original Thomas Magnum, TC, Rick, and of course Higgie Baby. We noodle over noir influences, gab about guest stars, and figure out favorite episodes. Does the show hold up? How does it compare to the new reboot? Finding out won't even cost you your tennis court privileges.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The Fairy Tale Project | Snow White: The Fairest of Them All (2001)

Who's in it?: Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Conjuring, Bates Motel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Kristin Kreuk (Smallville), Clancy Brown (Highlander, Shoot to Kill, Carnivàle), Vincent Schiavelli (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Better Off Dead...), Michael J Anderson (Twin Peaks, Carnivàle), Warwick Davis (Return of the Jedi, Willow), and Martin Klebba (Corky Romano, Pirates of the Caribbean, Scrubs, Mirror Mirror).

What's it about?: An Everything But the Kitchen Sink version of the fairy tale.

How is it?: I almost gave up a couple of times, but finished the film out of sheer stubbornness. Miranda Richardson is pretty great as the Queen and so is Vera Farmiga as one of her disguises, but Kristin Kreuk, while heart-breakingly beautiful, is also heart-breakingly empty as Snow White. She gives nothing to the performance and there's no way for me to connect to the character.

And even though she's fun, I don't connect to the Queen either, because unlike other versions and the original fairy tale, she's not trying to hold onto what her culture values about women. There's no social commentary, she's just evil and greedy. She doesn't actually care about what the King thinks of her; she's just trying to take over the kingdom. Boring.

I guess someone could argue that that's a more feminist take, but I'd argue back that it's not, because it doesn't actually address feminist issues. And that's not even considering that the power the Queen uses in her attempted coup comes from her older brother (Clancy Brown) who I guess is a genie or something?

The genie is indicative of my biggest problem with the film, which is that it just keeps layering on random elements for no reason. Like how the prince gets turned into a bear and then shrunk and put into a snow globe. Or how the dwarfs are named after days of the week, given the corresponding personalities from the "Monday's Child" song, then color-coded so that together they make a rainbow, but then they can actually turn into a rainbow and use it to travel long distances. Any one of these things could be interesting if there was a point to it, but it's all just thrown on top of the story without any consideration for what the story becomes.

I disliked the movie, but I'd have hated it more if not for Richardson and Farmiga's clearly having fun as their versions of the Queen. And the dwarf casting was pretty great, too. In an instance where a random, unexpected detail actually worked, Vincent Schiavelli is thrown in as one of the dwarfs alongside favorites Martin Klebba, Warwick Davis, and Michael J Anderson.

Rating: Two out of five Evil Farmigas.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Filthy Horrors | Filthy Horrors... Lite

Darla's not feeling well, but there are donuts and there is coffee, so Jess and I have an informal chat about... well, about a lot of stuff. We begin and end with Horror, but there are lots of other rooms to explore in this old, dark house and some of them are filled with Magnum PI and Star Trek.

Topics Covered:
  • Evil Dead (2013)
  • The Golem (2018)
  • The Wind (2018)
  • Making comics and attending conventions
  • Disney+ and CBS All Access
  • Magnum PI and ‘80s TV
  • Star Trek
  • Editors and the creative process
  • Godzilla movies
  • Ghost Stories (2017)
  • The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay by Erik Evensen
  • Marrying Mr. Darcy card game
  • Rachel Rising by Terry Moore
  • Revival by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton
  • Hack/Slash by Tim Seeley and Emily Stone
  • Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  • The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest by Ludwig Flammenberg
  • The Ring (2002) score by Hans Zimmer
  • Ambient music on YouTube


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