Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Eric Shanower

This artwork makes me drool in happiness. That is all.
No, seriously, I don't have a lot to say. You can read my review/summary of the plot at my entry for the book, here.
Whether or not you've read Baum's book, I recommend the version adapted by Shanower and illustrated by Skottie Young. I've read the book, obviously, so I knew what was going to happen--which didn't make the illustrations any less delightful. In fact perhaps it made them better, since I was so eagerly anticipating Young's version of all the characters.
And if you haven't read The Marvelous Land of Oz, the graphic novels leave nothing to be desired. The story is the same, and although the text is abbreviated I hesitate to go so far as to call them abridged, as the entirety of the story is presented in the graphic novel form. These are just gorgeous, gorgeous versions of the Oz stories, and I can't wait for the next one to come out.

Read these!

Monday, March 28, 2011


I went to see Suckerpunch this weekend. I have been excited about it for some time now, and from the trailers I thought it had a certain "Alice in Wonderland" quality to it. Don't you think so?

And I have to admit, it's been buzzing around my literary-analyst-brain ever since the end of the movie, when I sat in open-mouth shock and watched the credits.

I almost hesitate to recommend it, because I want to go into such depths of analysis that there are sure to be spoilers, spoilers, spoilers involved. But I also want all my fairy-tale-fan readers to go see and so we can DISCUSS it.

If you liked Watchmen AND Kick Ass, I would recommend this. I will say a few things more below the next picture, so if you are wary of spoilers, I'll see you next time!

First of all it occurred to me: action girls in miniskirts: really feminine empowerment? Yet I think this one fits the bill--it certainly passed the Bechdel test. In fact there are almost no "good" men in the movie. The one male helper fits the role of fairy godmother or even more the "old woman helper on the road." This is a movie about women, and while I have to say that the characters didn't reach new levels of depth in movies, it IS an action movie, and I don't ask for every male action hero to be stunningly characterized; it would be unrealistic to think that every action movie featuring women would have 100% humanized, rounded characters.

Having said that, each of the women in this movie DO have distinctive personalities, and while they may lean toward stereotypes, there are none that can simply be categorized (as, for example, "the love interest") and dismissed.

One of the things I found most compelling about this is the concept of the hero's journey and how well it fits Babydoll's experience. (Ha. Yes. The names. That's a whole different thing, but anyway.) Her "journey into other" is very much internal, but no less awesome, and her "return to aid" is completely concrete, as we see at the very end.

Thinking of Babydoll in terms of a Superhero is what makes the whole story work for me. It could be a tragic "suckerpunch" if you will, but I think we have a tendency to give our superheroes unrealistically happy endings in many cases. Here we have a bittersweet ending: there is success but it is mixed with sacrifice. As is hinted at in the movie--it's not a surprise except that in all the excitement, Babydoll and her audience forget that she was warned of the fifth thing, a mystery, a sacrifice that pays for all.

And I loved the parallel between Babydoll's sister and Sweetpea's sister. These two have experienced such a similar thing in regard to their younger sisters, and to me, that makes the ending all the more satisfactory. It's hard to explain without getting TOO specific, but the parallel between Sweetpea and Babydoll justified the ending: by saving Sweetpea, Babydoll saves herself.

The imagery was phenomenal: WWII meets Steampunk meets Lord of the Rings. (I seriously thought they just borrowed some orc costumes from Peter Jackson at one point.) It's worth seeing for the cinematography alone (although I suppose if you aren't interested in the movie at this point, you can just look up pictures online).

Like I said, I hesitate to unreservedly recommend this. However, I loved it, and I hope you'll give it a chance, free of expectations.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Secret of Kells

Before I tell you about this movie, I have to tell you about this DVD. Because it is an adventure in and of itself.

See, I heard about The Secret of Kells over a year ago, before it was out on DVD, and I knew I had to see it. I've been fascinated with the Book of Kells since I discovered its existence during some research project or other in high school, and here was a movie about the making of that very book. And, well, if you've seen the previews, perhaps you'll understand my simple longing for such a gorgeous piece of cinema.

So after it came out, I waited a month and requested it from my local Interlibrary Loan. (Because it's important to use libraries!) And it was just... utterly unavailable. (Which is good. People should be watching this.)

At last I gave up, and told my mother, librarian extraordinaire (who can blame me for being a book addict, I ask you?!) to order it for her library, which is an academic library. But people will need to study this film! So it's completely justified.

Well I had my name on the request, so I figured it was only a matter of a couple weeks until the film would come to me. Little did I know that darker forces were brewing... or a sticky tab went astray... or something... and before I'd ever seen it on the shelf, someone else had checked it out.

And that person... a bane on all libraries... returned the DVD case without the movie inside!

I know. You're shuddering in horror.

Well, the kind librarians persisted in phone calls on my behalf (and the behalf of the library's DVD collection, I suppose) and the movie was returned. And set into my own mother's hands. And then at last she mentioned she had it for me!

"But you can't take it tonight," she said. "I started it last night and I have to finish it first."


And then at last I watched it, and it was worth all the waiting and twists and turns of fate, to bring me here.

This is, simply put, the most beautiful movie I've ever seen. With what is at times deceptively simple animation, the art goes into intricate detail, swirling and glowing in a way that is rightly reminiscent of the illuminated manuscript from which it takes its inspiration.

The other inspiration for the movie comes from a poem called Pangur Bán (white fuller) which was written by an Irish Monk about his cat. And the cat in question is quite important in the movie, although how closely this ties to the poem is questionable. (The poem compares mousing to study.) In any case, the cat is a delightful addition to the the cast of characters.

Part of what I love about this movie is the idea that the illuminated manuscript is somehow unworldly. It's not explicitly stated in the film, but the implication that the book wouldn't have come to be without Faerie aid is certainly present. Aisling (who at first appears to be a lost little girl, and then is revealed to be rather more) aids Brendan in collecting the things he needs for the book, and in doing so draws the parallel between this story and the historical movement of Paganism giving way to Christianity in the region.

But before I get entirely scholarly and obscure, back to the movie.

Oh, the art. The art! I've included more pictures than I usually do because the movie is just so visually stunning. If I were to capture every image you should see, I would have to lay out the entire movie on my blog. So please see it!

The music is lovely as well. I noticed it a few times, and I usually pay no attention at all to music, at least on the first viewing of a film. That's normally something that sinks in the second time I watch a show. But this music appealed to my deeper nature. Here's a little sample (although a snippet of it was in the preview):

My one warning on this--and it's not a quibble, because it's brilliantly done--is not to expect a normal story format. Although there's tension and danger, the climax is not about the war or the fighting or anything you normally see in cinematic storytelling. It's all about The Book, which makes for an oddly-paced little movie. Yet I think in this case, when the subject matter is a painstakingly beautiful piece of literary history, it is a perfect fit.

I hope you'll check this out; go to whatever lengths you must to see it. I hope you love it as much as I did.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

Lonely teen Elizabeth is feeling lost and out of sorts at a new school, and with a new step-family to contend with. When her essay on fairy tale history catches the eye of one of her teachers, he recommends that she apply for work at the New York Circulating Materials Repository, where she becomes a page, fetching items of historic value for patrons to check out.

But soon she becomes curious about some of the special collections, especially The Grimm Collection (and who wouldn't be intrigued, with a name like that?). When items start to go missing, she and her fellow pages start sleuthing.

I have to admit, the archivist in me was intrigued by this book from the first time I heard of it, and it didn't disappoint. I don't think the cataloging details would bog down a lay-reader, but I certainly enjoyed them so it's hard to say. The book is funny and quick, and I really enjoyed the way the character fell into and out of suspicion from Elizabeth's point of view.

Although this is not an adaptation, the magical references are plentiful and enjoyable. And oh my goodness, how I'd love to work there!

My one quibble was perhaps my own misunderstanding of Elizabeth's age. At first in the story she comes across as perhaps middle school, and then later she definitely seemed more like she was in her mid-teens, all within the course of a single year at school. Which is incidental, really.

I think there's some open-endedness, perhaps in preparation for a sequel and if Ms. Shulman produces one, I certainly enjoyed the first one enough to check out the second.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Beastly Movie review

So I've had some time to mull over Beastly, and I figure you've either seen it by now or you're still trying to decide if it's worth seeing in theaters. And my thought on that is... meh. Aside from the rather remarkable makeup job (not necessarily as grotesque as they'd like to think, perhaps, but certainly impressive) there isn't a lot about this movie that screams "must see on big screen!" to me. It's a fairly typical paranormal romance, some of the sharper points in the book dulled down a bit.

Your story, of course, is Beauty and the Beast from Beast's perspective. He's a jerk, but we feel sorry for him because his father is even more of a jerk. He tries to pull one over on Kendra, but surprise! Those rumors about her being a witch: totally true. (It wasn't just a euphemism for a word that rhymed! Who knew?)

So suddenly he's all icky. He has a couple run-ins with Lindy both pre- and post-uglification, and the camera is definitely zoomed in on his affection for her. (HE IS ADMIRING HER AND SHE DOESN'T EVEN NOTICE! HOW ROMANTIC!)

Then, and here's where you can tell the marketing went "Well, what worked in Twilight?" he stalks her a bit, following her around town and watching her read at her window. Through his stalking, he is able to intervene when her father gets tangled with some drug-dealers, taking her away to his outside-the-city house for her protection. (I believe in the book, he had the traditional magic mirror on his side, making his stalking more of a mystical nature. I'm not sure that's better, but I had more trouble believing the chain of events in the movie than I did when I read the book.)

Neil Patrick Harris is definitely the highlight of the film. Every time he was on screen there was something to laugh about. From a blind guy throwing darts to he's caustic but useful advice, as far as I'm concerned, he was the star of the show.

The rest of the acting didn't hold up so well, and though it's always hard to say what's the acting and what's the directing, none of the three main characters (Mary-Kate Olsen, Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer) pulled off anything spectacular or... believable.

For my money, if you want a supernatural romance, I'd check out I Am Number Four at the theater, which at least has the special effects to be worth the big-screen ticket (and I liked it a lot better in the end--it caters much more to the sci-fi/action crowd than the Twilight crowd), and save Beastly for your home system. And as for this story, if I care to revisit it, I will go by way of book, and not the movie.

Edit: Here is a really nice blog entry by Alex Flinn, with thoughts about the movie vs the book, and her excitement at the premier. Well worth reading!

Friday, March 18, 2011

SyFy's Alice

Imagine a science fiction made-for-tv movie about a weird portal that takes you to a place where humans are harvested for their emotions. Add a whole bunch of Alice in Wonderland motif and imagery, and you have a good idea of what you're going to get with SyFy's miniseries, Alice.

The action begins when Alice's (Caterina Scorsone) not-very-longterm boyfriend (Philip Winchester) tries to give her a ring. She freaks out and he leaves, but when she finds that the ring was slipped into her pocket, she follows him to give it back and talk. Just in time to see him dragged away by some goons with white rabbits on their lapels.

Next thing she knows, she's through a looking glass and into a strange and very vertical world, where she's tagged as an "oyster" and boxed up. But being a savvy girl, she makes a quick escape, and finds possible help in the form of Hatter (Andrew Lee Potts).

(If only that was a blue police box instead of a red phone booth, they'd be fine.)

Hatter and Alice continue to make their way through Wonderland, meeting a cast of familiar yet slanted characters, from the White Knight (Matt Frewer) to the Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates).
Above, check out the Happy Hearts Casino, where humans go to win big all the time! And as they win, their feelings get drained away. Or something nefarious and questionable.

The imagery was very cool, and of course I love spotting the references. It's not a straight up Alice in Wonderland retelling, but I'm not sure that could work in a sci-fi film. However, most of the elements are here, and seeing how they show up is half the fun.

I enjoyed this at least as much as Tin Man, so if you liked that, here's another one to check out. There are a bunch of special features on the SyFy site, so you can get a more in-depth idea of the imagery and the storyline over there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate My, edited by Kate Bernheimer

Kate Bernheimer put together this stunning collection of fairy tale retellings and remodelings with the idea that "fairy tales remain a literary underdog--undervalued and undermined." Well, I hate to argue with you, Ms. Bernheimer, but look around. They are mined EVERYWHERE right now. Thank you Hollywood.

Okay, now that I've gotten my reverse sarcasm out of the way, let me say that this book is truly a gem. For all the wonderful adaptation and recreations of fairy tales that are out there, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me is a truly spectacular collection, and I thank Ms. Bernheimer for this successful attempt to elevate fairy tales in a literary manner.

If a fairy tale retelling is a treat, then I have gorged myself on this delectable book. With stories from Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, and Francesca Lia Block (to pick a random three among the ones I had previously heard of) these stories give many tales, both obscure and well-known, an excellent and valuable re-illumination.

A couple of my favorites:

Aimee Bender's "The Color Master," retells Donkeyskin by Charles Perrault, and features the tailors who create the princess's beautiful gowns (remember? the moon, the sun, the sky?) and how they manage to pull of the required dresses.

"First Day of Snow" by Naoko Awa features a Kamikakushi Tale from Japan, in which a little girl plays hopscotch with some snow rabbits and is nearly lost forever.

Kevin Brockmeier's "A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin" takes a long moment to imagine how the halves of Rumpelstiltskin fare after all of Rumpelstiltskin is thwarted.

Some stories worked better for me than others, as is the case with any short story collection. Overall, though, this book is well worth your time, both in terms of literary merit and stunning fairy tale retelling.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Calamity Jack by Hale, Hale, and unrelated Hale

It's been a loooong time since I read Rapunzel's Revenge, written by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale, so I was hoping I could pick up Calamity Jack without needing to remember too much of the first book. And it was fine; Calamity Jack is a complete story with just enough background thrown in to remind you that Jack was Rapunzel's sidekick in the first book, and then it takes off on a new and unrelated adventure.

Jack is bringing Rapunzel back to his home in the city, hoping to show her a good time with his city manners and street know-how. But his past catches up with him quickly, and Rapunzel is bound to find out that he wasn't always the heroic fellow she knows today....

I will say, if you liked the first one, the writing is just as strong, there's a dash of humor, and it's fun to watch the relationship between Punzy and Jack bloom into something a little stronger and deeper. The artwork is colorful and gorgeous--whether or not you've delved into graphic novels, this pair is a good set to try, and you can pretty much start with either one (I'd recommend reading them in order, but if you can't get your hands on RR first, it doesn't hurt to start with the second one.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Red Riding Hood, 2011 Released Today

Don't forget, Red Riding Hood is in theaters today! Go see it and support Fairy Tale movies!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Little Red Riding Hood

With Warner Bros releasing their new Red Riding Hood movie, I thought I'd take this week to look at some of the previous versions of Little Red in film.

They... didn't so much use child actors in Faerie Tale Theatre. So Mary (Red) is played by Mary Steenbergen, who brings a certain charm to the role even while remaining firmly grown up.

Little Mary meets a woodcutter, Chris, and hits it off with him, but her dad is opposed to them spending too much time together, until she runs into an actually dangerous wolf, and Chris saves her. Then dad is okay with their budding relationship.

This is a cute episode in FTT. Not my favorite, but the content they added to the original story was done well enough to fill the time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Red Riding Hood, 1988

With Warner Bros releasing their new Red Riding Hood movie, I thought I'd take this week to look at some of the previous versions of Little Red in film.

It's like someone read the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and said, "Why is this called a fairy tale? There's no fairies in this story! I'm gonna make a version with fairies!" And behold, you have Red Riding Hood bookended with fairy appearances in this 1988 film version by Cannon Movie Tales.

Aside from that, though, there's actually a fairly interesting (if slow) plot about Red's parents and uncle, and a deal with the devil for the "power of the wolf."

This is one of those musicals where, for some reason, I just can't see the songs coming. I'm not sure what it is about them, but suddenly--oh, looky there, we're singing again.

With solid, if not stunning, performances by Amelia Shankley (Linet/Red), Isabella Rosallini, Craig T. Nelson, and Rocco Sisto, this version borders on the campy (okay sometimes it's a cheese fest) but is mostly fun and one you can share with the kids without worrying that it's going to be too scary.

It's available on hulu for free for the time being, you can watch it here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Riese: Kingdom Falling

With Warner Bros releasing their new Red Riding Hood movie, I thought I'd take this week to look at some of the previous versions of Little Red in film.

While it's not strictly a LRRH retelling, Riese: Kingdom falling does borrow heavily from Red's imagery, from the wolf to the red hood to being lost in the forest. Think LRRH meets Game of Thrones meets Steampunk.

Riese is the lost princess, escaped into the woods and isolation after her family were killed in a coup by her aunt. She's traveling, trying to survive and help people when she can without too much risk to herself. The show starts with a bounty hunter on her tail, and when she's injured she seeks refuge in a small town that seems peaceful, until she investigates more closely.

This is a very cool show, especially because it started as an independent internet effort. It's since been ... bought? backed? by SyFy, so I'm interested in seeing how it develops from this point forward. Aside from some heavy and unnecessary narration, the writing up until now has been interesting, the storyline developing over the course of ten five-to-eight minute episodes. So far it all feels very prologue-y, which may have to do with the fact that the episodes are so short, or perhaps because there's only been about 40 minutes of actual episode.

It's available to watch now on SyFy (if you can handle's obnoxious advertisements) or you can find episodes on hulu.

Monday, March 7, 2011


With Warner Bros releasing their new Red Riding Hood movie, I thought I'd take this week to look at some of the previous versions of Little Red in film.

Hoodwinked is my favorite Little Red Riding Hood version. I am not a huge fan of the tale: it's awfully overdone. When people think "fairy tale" they inevitably think Little Red Riding Hood (and Hansel and Gretel) and, as there are SO MANY more fairy tales, a snob--I mean, aficionado--like me gets a little tired of little Red.

However, this version is extremely fun. With 4 retellings within this one movie (from 4 different perspectives), a jolt of action, a dab of music, and a solid plot, this is fast-paced and interesting all the way through. Talented voice acting from Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, James Belushi, and Patrick Warburton rounds out the movie.

The main thing I have heard people complain about is the animation, and I have some friends who really didn't like it because of the more simple computer animation. Which in my mind completely misses the point. You can have the most stunning animation ever, but if you don't have an interesting plot, the movie isn't going to stick in my mind as a favorite. (I am looking at you, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within)

Hoodwinked has everything I want in a fairy tale film: references, twists, and humor.

You can watch the original trailer here:

And great news, for Hoodwinked fans: after a long and drawn out legal issue, Hoodwinked 2 is finally on the radar! I am excited to see this one, too.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Beastly by Alex Flinn Movie

Beastly is out today!

In her retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Flinn retells the story from the Beast's perspective, in a decidedly modern setting. I think this is a lot like the way that Shakespeare's stories can be so effectively set in high schools -- emotions run high, everything that happens feels vital and -- whatever the reason, the setting and point of view are very effective in this retelling.


As I recall, this was a quick and engaging read. Not too complex, being aimed at high schoolers, and after all, we already know the bones of the story. Flinn did a nice job of fleshing out the characters believably, with a few twists to keep things interesting.

There's an excerpt and more reviews for Beastly here:

And of course, the film is out in theatres today. Remember, the best way to make sure we have more fairy tale movies on the horizon is to support them as they come out!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Well... I don't imagine there are many people reading this blog who haven't seen Disney's Beauty and the Beast. (If you haven't seen it, here's my review: if you like Disney, you'll like it.) However, I am covering film versions, and I haven't watched a couple of the really obscure ones I've seen listed.

So instead I thought I'd offer you this: Advice from a Cartoon Princess.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cannon Movies Beauty and the Beast

Since Beastly, based on Alex Flinn's book, is coming out this Friday, I thought I'd take this week to look at some of the previous incarnations of Beauty and the Beast in cinema.

I have to give Cannon a solid "meh" on this one. Sticking close to the Madame de Villeneuve version of the story, Beauty's family is loving but incompetent. Her father's business experiences a run of bad luck, leaving the family poor, and just as he thinks his luck will turn, he finds that his last ship and his last hope have been lost. Wandering home he comes on the Beast's castle... gets treated for the night... picks a rose in the morning--you know where it goes from here.

Starring Rebecca de Mornay and John Savage, the acting is a bit stilted (could be due to the directing as well). Very much aimed at children, instead of being for children, if you take my distinction.

It's worth a viewing if you're a big fan of B&B, otherwise you might pass this one in favor of the other Cannon Movie Tale films.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Beauty and the Beast

Since Beastly, based on Alex Flinn's book, is coming out this Friday, I thought I'd take this week to look at some of the previous incarnations of Beauty and the Beast in cinema.

OMG, this is almost a straight-up rip-off of the Jean Cocteau film. I MEAN, this is La Belle et la Bete, on fast forward.

I... can't say much else about it than that. From the costumes and settings, to the special effects, this is a direct nod to Cousteau. Watching them in such proximity was actually quite fascinating. The story was very close, so it was interesting to see what was cut for time. Only a couple of the confusing story elements were dropped--the bit about the random smoking beast (I mean like he was ON FIRE smoking) was still there.

Starring Susan Sarandon and with Angelica Houston in a bit role, this is a pretty fitting (timewise) entry in the Faerie Tale Theatre collection.