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Anticipating Branagh’s Cinderella

Cinderella Poster

 

I’m going to go ahead and claim that my interest in the upcoming live action Cinderella is purely academic.  I mean, I talked about it in my review of The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition, and that’s certainly scholarly. Of course, I also mentioned the first volume of Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, a YA science fiction reimagination of the story.

Okay, call it a fascination with fairy tales.  Especially new takes on acknowledged classics. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and featuring Cate Blanchett as the stepmother, I’m pretty much all in.  Judge me all you like.  The first trailer came out last week,

Oh My Disney asked Branagh what drew him to Cinderella:

I love contrast in my work and I love surprise and challenge. I had previously worked on Thor and then Jack Ryan. And then along comes a fairy tale, and trying to work out what made a classic like Cinderella resonate so deeply across hundreds and hundreds and of years, and across the movie landscape for decades and decades, was a revelation. I wanted to figure out how you make Cinderella in the 21st century.

I enjoyed his twentieth century update of Hamlet and his interpretation of Thor.  I dig the saturated colors of Cinderella.  And the themes of courage and kindness are perhaps the best focus within the context of a Disney interpretation.

See you in March.  And probably in the fifth season of Once Upon a Time.

steps


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Earthling Cinema, The MST3K Thug Notes for Films

Earthling-CinemaWisecrack, the conglomeration of folks behind my beloved Thug Notes, have branched out with a new series of short film critique videos called Earthling Cinema. Being ever busy, I had not jumped into this new series until recently, though it’s been around for about a month.

The set-up shares much with Thug Notes–an ironic persona for a host, a summary of the text, followed by analysis of its meaning. Rather than literature, it’s film. Rather than a gangster, it’s a space alien named Garryx Wormuloid examining the artifacts of now extinct Earthlings. Like with Thug Notes, the delivery is comedic, but the analysis is insightful.

Thus far Earthling Cinema has taken on a film a week: Fight Club, Pulp Fiction, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Mean Girls. Of course, the outsider’s take on the characters and events of these films is amusing, full of malapropisms, mispronunciations, and alien absurdities while also pointing out the absurdities of Earthling (mostly American) culture. In the Pulp Fiction episode, the host explains that “Jules consumes processed animal carcass, reads from the Bible, then does some team-building exercises with Vincent.” 2001‘s story gets boiled down as the classic story of “ape meets ape, ape meets monolith, ape meets tool, tool meets ape, tool meets spaceship, spaceship meets spaceship, spaceship meets boy, boy meets supercomputer, boy meets star-gate, baby meets planet.” According to Wormuloid, Mean Girls is set in “the American high school, one of the most terrifying and dangerous places on Earth.” Word, dude.

Come for the comedy, stay for the analysis. On Pulp Fiction: “Much of the humor comes from a cavalier attitude about human on human violence.” The Fight Club episode explains how the quick-spliced pornography undermines the catharsis at the film’s end. The 2001 episode actually makes sense of 2001 while also explaining the significance of that famous match cut.

Earthling Cinema is worth checking out for both entertainment and edification.


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Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never_Let_Me_GoAbout every five years, I introduce a book to my AP Literature curriculum that I’ve heard great things about but haven’t had the chance to read. By doing so, I place myself in my student’s position and can model how I process a book the first time I read it. This was that year, and the book was Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

I wasn’t really a stranger to the plot. I’d seen the movie, which is remarkably faithful. Unfortunately, my knowledge from the movie colored and diminished some of my enjoyment of the book. It is part mystery, after all, and knowing the reveals meant I couldn’t enjoy the guessing. However, seeing how flustered some of my students got when only a few of their questions were answered, I realized that I didn’t suffer that same disappointment. I knew which questions would be left hanging.

Never Let Me Go is told from the perspective of a 31-year-old “carer” named Kathy. Her voice is casual and conversational. She has verbal ticks, like anyone who tells you stories for long enough. The narrative is a series of flashbacks as she relates her memories of childhood and adolescence to an unknown audience. She reminisces about her mostly idyllic childhood at a boarding school called Halisham and her friendships with Ruth and Tommy. But it is clear to the reader that something is wrong at Halisham and maybe with the students. They are different, though they don’t know precisely why. The mystery of the book is figuring this out–how the students are different and why Halisham is run like it is.

Except, of course, Kathy has many of the answers as a 31-year-old, but she reveals the secrets in a controlled way, to continue the tension and propulsion of the mystery. The control over those mysteries is so deliberate, Ishiguro manages to evoke within the reader the same reactions the students have when they learn a new secret–exactly like they had already known the answer. It is a way of controlling the students of Halisham, and the control is over the reader as well.

The mystery is sci-fi in nature, posing an alternate Britain after World War II. The hints at the social program surrounding the students are creepy and deeply thought-provoking. But they are big questions–questions of humanity and ethics, the sacrifices of the few for the betterment of the many. The costs of science and the brave new worlds it creates. Its ancestors are Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

But to say this is a book about big questions is to lose track of the story at its heart: the relationship between Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. It is the realism of their interactions as children and young adults and the heartbreak of the mistakes they make with each other that pulls the reader deep inside Ishiguro’s narrative. I recognized myself and my friends in these three–a crucial attachment to make the themes of the book hit home.

I highly recommend this book to just about anyone, really.

 


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Frozen-Adjacent Holiday Tunage

xmas olafIf I were Disney, I would be marketing the crap out of holiday-buffed Frozen merchandise. Put a Santa hat on that stuffed Olaf! Add a red sash and bow to that Anna doll’s green coronation gown! String some bells on that Sven plushie’s antlers! But, alas, I’m just a lowly high school English teacher.

What I can offer is some Frozen-adjacent holiday songs featuring Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel).

The first comes from Straight No Chaser, a 10-man acapella group, and features Kristen Bell. They’ve done the good deed of adding to the limited number of Christmas songs by writing “Text Me Merry Christmas.” It’s cute, funny, touching, and ever so slightly naughty. It’s video, though quite simple, matches the levity of the song and punctuates the jokes.

The second is an ol’ holiday standard made acceptable for a Disney audience through some lyric tampering–“Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” This one comes from Idina Menzel’s new holiday album and features Michael Buble as her duet partner. The vocals cannot be faulted, but I miss the sauciness of the original lyrics. The video features the amateurish dancing of children. They’re cute, but that’s about it. Weirdly, the whole video is styled like something off of Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby soundtrack, which doesn’t jive with the whitewashed lyrics and cutesy kiddos.


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Star Wars Saturday: Redlettermedia’s Critique of ‘The Phantom Menace’

phantommenaceRedlettermedia’s video review of The Phantom Menace is not new to the world, since it was uploaded to YouTube in 2012, but it is new to me, and I definitely think it’s worth sharing with anyone who has yet to experience it.

It’s no secret that I think The Phantom Menace is a waste of digital space. I have, though, not always found the words to express my disdain. Part of the problem is that I haven’t revisited it since seeing it in the theaters. I believe I saw it twice back in 1999 but have had no desire to see it since. So I have a hard time being specific in my complaints.

Redlettermedia’s now somewhat infamous critical take on The Phantom Menace is full of specificity. About character, plot, and cinematic visuals. It’s delivered as a satire of film critique. The narrator is a constructed persona with a “funny” voice and a sketchy background. He gets things like William Shakespeare’s name wrong, but the points he makes are dead-on accurate.

The full video essay is 70 minutes, so you can just imagine the level of deep criticism he offers. Part 1 deals with the character problems–no personality, no connection. Part 2 discusses the overall criticisms of the story and how it’s presented–too much stuff thrown in. Parts 3 and 4 and beyond make scene-by-scene analysis of plot and its many, many inconsistencies and holes. Part 5 takes on the characters of Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Anakin Skywalker. Part 6 returns to the completely nonsensical finale. Part 7 addresses the multiplication effect of the endings of the Star Wars films and the catastrophe the cross-cutting of four tonally different scenes in the finale of The Phantom Menace.

I’m going to embed the first two parts, because they are truly spot-on analysis. The others you can seek out on your own, because unfortunately the narrator’s “comedic” persona is a violent psychopathic misogynist, and the “jokes” that are made in this arena get more pronounced and offensive starting in part 3. If that won’t bother you, forge ahead! If on the other hand, you’d prefer not to, end your fun with part 2.


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Frozen Friday: One Year Later

Wednesday marked Frozen‘s Paper Anniversary.  It’s been with us a year now and local stores finally have some merchandise now and then.  We’ve only been fans for about half that time and yet it somehow seems much, much longer.

FSALE

For the anniversary, Disney made us something.  They’re releasing, “for an extremely limited time,” a sing-along dvd edition for the holiday season.  All of the songs are accompanied by their lyrics with time marked by a bouncing snowflake.  So, if you still don’t know the words to the ice harvesters’ “Frozen Heart,” here’s your chance to learn them.

In return, they’d like some of your paper.

The sing-along premiered Monday at London’s Royal Albert Hall with three showings.  More than two hundred choralists lead thousand strong crowds through “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” “For the First Time in Forever,” and all the rest.

The Telegraph posted a review of the final show along with a video of the crowd’s rapturous rendition of the unstoppable juggernaut “Let it Go.”  It’s really quite something to hear so many people, children and adults, coming together over a song I’d have no relationship to if not for my toddler.

 

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