Monday, June 19, 2017

I Want Out of the Woods

A Review of Into the Woods


Admittedly, I know nothing of the musical Into the Woods besides a heavily edited high school performance seen well over a decade ago.  It didn't make an impression then either.  The premise of the story, an intertwining of plots and characters from several fairy tales (Grimm originals, to boot), seemed promising.  That and the the all-star cast line-up enticed me to click play while I was browsing Netflix one evening.

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The beginning is the best part of the whole film.  It only goes downhill from there.  The way the stories wove together were, well...passable.  And that's the best I can say about it.

I liked the setup, placing the baker and his wife into the Rapunzel tale.  The expectation of things coming together, especially the opening song, had my attention.  Emily Blunt performs very well as the Baker's Wife, combining musical dialogue with humor.  I'm fond of James Corden and pleased with his casting.  Little Red Riding Hood's introduction as the glutton is cute as well.  Interesting parallels there between her and the wolf.

As the movie played on, I felt a gaping lack of attachment to the characters--other than Mr. and Mrs. Baker: infertility is a profound struggle that touches far too many.  And Emily Blunt carried that for me.  The princes bored me to tears.  Rapunzel was a nobody; Cinderella was, as the witch says, merely "nice;" and the children are downright annoying.  Is the head-slapping relationship between Jack and his mother supposed to be endearing?

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Meryl Streep's character is meant to express moral ambiguity, I get it, but there should have been some sort of tie-in between the bakers' infertility and her kidnapping the baker's sister to be her adoptive daughter.  What we get is tiresome sung-exposition.  Insert the Willy Wonka Gene Wilder meme here:  Tell me again about the complex parent-child relationship that plays out in complex ways and is complex!!!!  The witch having never previously expressed a desire for a child and the total lack of screen time between her and her "daughter" killed the effectiveness of any would-be emotional impact.  We could have done with a little character development.

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In the end, the characters all work together and all get their wishes.

But--this musical wants to slap it into our heads as surely as Jack's mother--you should be careful what you wish for.  After the curtains close on the traditional endings, there is still another dragging hour of  movie left; during which, in-between trying to avoid the wrath of a giantess, they all come together to be communally unsatisfied.  A theme that feels heavy-handed and forced, desperate to join the lineup of postmodernist deconstructed fairy tales.  The deaths are stupid and pointless.  The ending utterly anti-climactic.  Into the Woods tries be profound and it's just not.  Somehow, that is worse than if they'd decided to say "sod it all!" and just make something fun and ridiculous.

Wikipedia reports that the play's

basic insight ... is at heart, most fairy tales are about the loving yet embattled relationship between parents and children. Almost everything that goes wrong — which is to say, almost everything that can — arises from a failure of parental or filial duty, despite the best intentions.

Nothing that the original stories didn't already do, and do better.

What did you think of this film?  How does it compare to the musical?  Did I miss something essential that would have otherwise earmarked this a landmark production?

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Krampusnacht Two

Enchanted Conversation, the fairy tale magazine, and World Weaver Press are soliciting stories for a second Krampus-themed publication.  The submission period is open until August 15th, so if you missed your chance for the last collection or are having some midsummer cravings for writing about winter, dive in.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sirens from World Weaver Press

Hi, readers!  Look what showed up in my inbox the other day.  A new release, check it out!



Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.
Featuring stories by Kelly Sandoval, Amanda Kespohl, L.S. Johnson, Pat Flewwelling, Gabriel F. Cuellar, Randall G. Arnold, Micheal Leonberger, V. F. LeSann, Tamsin Showbrook, Simon Kewin, Cat McDonald, Sandra Wickham, K.T. Ivanrest, Adam L. Bealby, Eliza Chan, and Tabitha Lord, these siren songs will both exemplify and defy your expectations.  
Sirens will be available in trade paperback and ebook via Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Books-a-Million, KoboWorld Weaver Press, iBookstore, IndieBound and OmniLit, and for wholesale through Ingram.  

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Snow Queen and the Huntsman?


I'm both intrigued by and worried about the upcoming Huntsman: Winter's War.  I have a soft spot in my thorny heart for Snow White and the Huntsman.  Besides being a gorgeous film, there were some vivid fairy tale archetypes and themes that hit my sweet spot: the waste land, the white stag, Ravenna as a crow queen and beauty as a weapon, etc.  It looks like this film is going to continue in that direction of powerful imagery, but I'm still hesitant to get my hopes too high.  At this point it's more of a general, nondescript feeling than a handful of solid reasons.


It's strange that the huntsman-part of the first film was made the series anchor.  At the end of SWATH, it felt like it was setting up for a sequel that would follow Snow, with a Snow White and the ____ title.  Ravenna was dead.  Okay, so they resurrected her.  I'll suspend disbelief.  But this is both a before and after with the supposedly defeated queen.  (Though I adored Charlize Theron's performance--that alone is worth watching!)

The adoption and expansion of the role of Hemsworth's huntsman will forever change our perception of the first film, and I don't like movies that do that.  I think it's sloppy story-telling, it changes the already-powerful and satisfyingly vague backstory of Ravenna in the first film.  I understand that they couldn't get Kristen Stewart back for a sequel, but they're creatives . . . they could have figured something out.  (For that matter, how about Emily Blunt in the role of Snow White?  She's a much better actress than Stewart.)


We've already had one Snow Queen disaster with Disney's Frozen.  Andersen's tale is my favorite, and I don't take kindly to loose or artless interpretations.  Emily Blunt's character could be done very well or not.   Though there is a symmetry in making the villain from Snow White and the Snow Queen related.  Come to think of it, wouldn't a better title have been Snow Queen and the Huntsman?

There's lots more that I'm wondering at; some of which make sense, I suppose, for entertainment purposes, but which doesn't please my demanding since of aesthetic!  I'm all over the map on this one, so enough from me.  What do you think?

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Spindle as Sleight-of-Hand: A Book Review

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman


This is my second attempt at reading Neil Gaiman's work.  I started, got half-way through, and then sort of trickled off from reading Stardust.  I got a bit further with the movie version but with ultimately the same fate.

I mention this in full disclosure, in case my first impression unfairly colored the second.

I'm fascinated with spinning, so one look at the title of this book and I had to read it.  I was also drawn by the atmospheric black, white, and gold illustrations, drawing tangents with alchemy.  Though Chris Riddell's style is less "pretty" than I (personally) like, its quiet irreverence goes well with the sardonic narration, and its intricacy reflects the tangles of thorns, thickets, and themes of the source fairy tales.

In brief summary, a sort of Snow White, now queen, is reported to by three of her dwarfs.  A sleeping sickness is spreading throughout the next door kingdom.  She decides she must go, leaving on the eve of her marriage donning armor and sword rather than a wedding gown.  The dwarfs lead her under the mountain ranges that no one can climb over, to the cursed kingdom, where they are advanced upon by zombie-like sleepers, until they reach the thorn-covered castle.  The queen burns the roses and thorns, they ascend the highest tower, find a cranky old woman and a beautiful sleeper.  The queen (Snow White) knows what to do . . . but when the kissed sleeper wakes, it turns out she was the witch, who used the spindle (no spinning wheel in this version) to steal the life and sleep from the princess, now aged and senile, and from the surrounding kingdom.  The queen refuses the offer to work for the beautiful witch, gives the spindle back to the old princess; the old princess stabs the youthful witch, undoing the sleeping spell on all the land, but not restoring the lost youth of herself.  Rather than returning home to the inevitable wedding, the queen and her dwarfs turn away toward unknown lands and further adventures.

I was intrigued by several elements in the story, such as the nature of the spell over the sleeping civilians, who appeared to speak out loud the slumbering princess's dreams; the impassibility of the mountain range; the fact that only the spiders were un-sleeping (later rendered less mysterious by the mention of moths and maggots); that the spindle alone was the culprit of enchantment; the Snow White and the Huntsman type heroine, who makes me curious to know the version of her own tale.

Despite its potential--namely, its expert selection of fairy tale archetypes--The Sleeper and the Spindle lacks impact.  The telling is bland and slow; the narrator's asides feel forced; motivations were obscure, yet somehow it lacked mystery.  

Then there is this irksome plot hole: why is the old princess able to kill the youthful witch at the end but not before then?  We are told that the witch's spell prevented her from harm, but how has it suddenly stopped working?  Even the witch seems confused by this, muttering, "It was only a scratch," as she crumbles to ashes.

Another plot hole: why wasn't the princess's youth returned along with her people's wakefulness?  These things are not explained, and not in the what-did-Bluebeard's-first-wife-do-to-get-killed kind of way.

I knew the sleeping beauty and the old woman were reversed roles, probably because I expected this sort of plot twist from the outset.  The woman-rescuing-woman element has grown trite, becoming the kind of thing one expects from a post-modernist fairy story.  At the end, I felt cheated: what interested in this story was mere sleight-of-hand, distracting from the fact that there really wasn't much happening.

There was a moment of fairy tale maturity, like a strong, high note in the story, when the queen withstands "temptation" to serve the young and beautiful witch because she has "learned to feel her own feelings."  When did that happen?  And how?  Wouldn't it have been so much more powerful to express that tangibly, rather than in narration, in some visible sign, some outward rejection manifesting itself physically in reality?  What experience in the original story caused this revelation?

I want to read that story.

The Sleeper and the Spindle gives the impression of trying a bit too hard; and in the end, though it is entertaining, it is neither very new nor captivating.

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