Monday, June 20, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers

Taking the prize for longest title in the Faerie Tale Theatre series is "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers," which has some alternate titles like Fearnot or The Story of the Youth who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was. (Personally I have always gravitated toward "Fearnot" as it's the shortest one to write.)

This is the story of a young lad who has never been scared of anything, growing up in a culture of superstition and fear. Finally his happy-go-lucky ways are too much of an embarrassment to his family, who live in proper fright, and his father sends him away. The lad, not at all discouraged, is determined to discover what the big deal is before he returns home.

He doesn't travel far (in this version) before he comes upon a haunted castle that everyone is afraid of. He agrees to spend three nights there; if he can live through all three nights he is offered a reward of money and a princess, but he is more interested in the idea of being frightened for once than he is in the reward.

Naturally the things that frighten other people have no effect on him, but he does spend three nights making friends with a range of ghouls and ghosts.

With Peter MacNicol as the titular character and Christopher Lee in a supporting role, this is one of the most enjoyable episodes of FTT. (Of course it's also one of my favorite stories, so that might have some impact on my opinion.) And the twist at the very end of the story did make me chuckle.

You can watch the episode for free on hulu.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Red Riding Hood, 2011

I starting watching this, not expecting much after the other reviews I have seen and heard. And, well, I can't say I entirely disagree with them. This is a pretty film, no doubt, but it had some of the most stilted dialog and wooden acting I've seen outside of a Mystery Science Theatre episode.

And a lot of Amanda Seyfried looking lost, confused, concerned, or bewildered:

As far as the story, though, I was actually okay with this retelling. It uses the elements of the old story, including some of the lesser known details like eating grandma. Well sort of. And there's lots of werewolf mythology thrown in: blood moons and silver swords and holy ground. Oh, and a weird elephant torture device from Rome.

Man, I want a weird elephant torture device from Rome.

Gary Oldman plays the slightly insane priest who lost his wife to werewolves, Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons face off as the love interests, and Billy Burke reprises his role as the Dad in Twilight. (har)

I am really not sure why this movie didn't work. It really isn't good, but sometimes I can get past that, and just tell myself, "Okay, this is going to be silly, but just enjoy it!" and this was one of those cases. The elements seem like they should work: decent story, decent actors, but they don't add up to a good movie in this case.

In spite of that, I think if you're a fairy tale lover, you will find some things to like about this. The three little pigs have a moment, there are subtle and direct references to old, old versions of LRRH, and, well, it is a darn PRETTY movie:

So if you've been afraid to give this one a chance, I say go for it. It's not going to be your new favorite movie, I don't think, but it definitely has its moments and I don't feel like I need my two hours back.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Snow White

I think deep in my psyche, this is what "Snow White" means to me, more than the Disney version, which never really sank in. No wonder I always forgot about the poison comb: it's not in the FTT version, which only had time for tight ribbons and an apple. (Don't they know that fairy tales work by threes?)

Vanessa Redgrave plays the queen, and Elizabeth McGovern plays Snow White. I have to admit, seeing Rex Smith as the prince was a highlight for me (I am a Pirates of Penzance fan).

It was rather amusing to come straight off Thumbelina's: "Will you marry me?" "I have to think about it," to Snow White's: "Will you marry m---" "YES." Where's the message, Ms. Duvall??

There isn't a lot I can say about this as far as quality: it's standard FTT fare. But it might make a nice alternative to the Disney version if you want something new for the kids. Written with plenty of humor, especially among the dwarves, it's quick enough to keep adults entertained as well.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Thumbelina

Thumbelina is a messed up story. It has always bothered me. Also I think that's why I like it.

So I give Faerie Tale Theatre major props for their retelling of Thumbelina, for managing to cut out two of the major problems I have with the story.

Carrie Fisher stars at the title character. Golly, she is cute. And she goes through all the trials and tribulations of being Thumbelina with spunk. The writing in this episode isn't as funny as in some, but the performances gel together really well, making this overall a strong episode.

And as she goes from being kidnapped to be a bride for the frog, to rescued by the fieldmouse only to become a bride for the mole (and hello heavy patriarchic, female helplessness symbolism), out comes one of my favorite lines in all of FTT history:

"It's just that I'm... always the bride, never the bridesmaid...."

Then onto the fairy prince... err, flower angel. I don't know why the fairies were renamed for this story. It's one of the only fairy tales with actual fairies already in it... so why change the name? But we still get the idea.

And Thumbelina says she cannot marry anyone without her mother's consent, and the... flower-angel prince agrees to find her mother. Thereby neatly solving two of the bothersome issues of the story: Thumbelina and the prince actually get to know each other, making it NOT yet another forced marriage proposition, and she gets reunited with the discarded mother. (Not that the mother-figure in a fairy tale is necessarily as important as a real mother, but that has always bothered me.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

I really enjoy Underhill-type stories: a faerie world alongside normal earth, crossing over and through "our" world, bringing magic and strangeness into everyday life. A lot of urban fantasy seems to be going that way, and I approve. The problem has become, however, that I GET it (and I'm sure many of the readers of this particular blog are on the same page with me) and I don't need pages of explanation of what's going on to understand the concept.

So keep that in mind as you read this review.

The Iron Witch is about Donna Underwood, a 17-year-old who has been raised by her aunt since her father died ten years ago. Her mother is in a care home, not quite insane but certainly not "right." Their whole family belongs to a society of alchemists who are responsible for protecting humanity from the faery creatures who cross over to Donna's world.

Although I liked the book more than I disliked it, the pacing is slow, with long passages of exposition slowing it down even more. The characters are almost compelling; they are interesting, but there's not quite enough urgency even in the midst of kidnapping and rescue mission to really be gripping.

I think this is best as an introduction to the type of urban fantasy it represents, with enough explanation that even someone who's never picked up a fantasy book will understand everything without any problem. This is the first book in a trilogy, and the unresolved plot threads (Donna's mother's cure, and her upcoming initiation at age 18 into the alchemists' society) promise intriguing developments in books 2 and 3.

If you are looking for more mature or in-depth fantasy, I'd skip this one.

Karen Mahoney's website is here.