Tuesday, October 30, 2018

If you do one thing this Halloween, watch Over the Garden Wall

When I was seven years old I threw my first Halloween party.

It was me, my friend Jenny, and my immediate family, who were there by default.  I made a pin-the-tail-on-the-black-cat game.  We bobbed for apples and then dipped them in caramel.

The year before, at the age of 6, instead of trying to form words in my daily journal at school, I drew ghosts, tombstones, haunted houses, jack-o-lanterns, spider webs, and witches, all throughout the month of October.  I couldn't write and I could barely read.  But the archetypes of Halloween possessed my pages.  Barely over five years earth-side and the symbols of the season resonated to my roots, like memories from a past life.

Indeed it is a kind of shared cultural memory: the burning autumn trees and pumpkin lanterns and hay rides.  It is a Halloween that exists on a different level of reality; it is a country that touches, or is a county within, Fairyland.  Its denizens and theirs commingle.

When I saw Over the Garden Wall, I recognised it immediately.  Here was my Halloween.  The invisible but palpable dream Halloween of my childhood, which sometimes crosses the threshold from its land into ours.  Crossroads, liminal seasons, leylines draw it, same attracting same.  This animated series is a profound and insightful work of art made with reverence and levity, at once a homage and a carrying on of the tradition of the Halloween of memory, the cultures, and peoples, and the traditions that have joined joined the soup; of the land of loose boundaries, of death and life, and what fairy tales mean.

I could write reams and reams about this series and how it earns its place in the canon of traditional fairy tales.  How it draws from the Grimms, and Americana, and the existential questions people ask themselves late at night when the fire dies down and the stars remain.  The superb acting talent absorbed into the story.  The reminiscent animation style, the humor, the character growth and arcs, the shared human antagonist--so embedded in the subconscious that we know him intimately, though we ever only see him fully for less than a second.

But I don't have time for that now.  I have lanterns to light and icons to dress and dead to pray for and anticipate.  So I'll just say this: if you do one thing this Halloween, watch Over the Garden Wall.


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.


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?


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.


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?


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.


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.  


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?