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Fassbender’s ‘Macbeth’ Teaser Trailer Grimdark and Riveting

I was over the grimdark thing. Really. And then I saw the newly released Macbeth trailer, and I found myself suddenly excited again over a dirty, dark, grimy, violent film about hubris, murder, and madness.

But, what, if anything, deserves to be grimdark more than Macbeth? Media headlines are claiming this is a darker version. Than what? The Polanski adaptation? Look at some screenshots–there seems to be a less desaturated color palette, but the grim realism is there.

polanski-macbeth banquoghost

So not sure this new one’s going all that much farther. Plus, The Scottish Play is tailored for just such a grimness. Our hero becomes a monster before our eyes. He murders men, women, and children. And then he gets his comeuppance. Don’t be prideful, kids.

Despite the fact that I don’t think this one is necessarily upping the darkness ante on Polanski’s, there is much to be excited about.

  1. macbeth orangeIt appears to have a more historical realism in the costuming. Macbeth on the battlefield has a touch of the Braveheart with his warrior’s face painting. Likewise the locations are both gorgeous and evocative of the helplessness of humans to nature, or their nature, or fate.
  2. Michael Fassbender seems to be playing Macbeth to all the right notes. I got chills when he looked up at the camera, his face open and vulnerable, saying, “Full of scorpions is my mind.” A brilliant contrast to the stoic “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” line at the beginning.
  3. The cinematography is atmospheric. The foggy moors. The color use to create a near monochromatic palette with figures as shadowed silhouettes. The dynamic changes of speed to focus on particular characters or actions. Use of close-up to get the depth of emotion on Fassbender’s or Marion Cotillard’s faces.
  4. Cotillard also appears to be doing Lady Macbeth right, though there’s not as much coverage in the trailer. I’m excited to see what she brings to the tragic part.fassbender

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Book Review: Half the World

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World AbercrombieSometimes a girl is touched by Mother War.
Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.

Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior.
She finds herself caught up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, Gettland’s deeply cunning minister. Crossing half the world to find allies against the ruthless High King, she learns harsh lessons of blood and deceit.

Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon.
Beside her on the journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill, a failure in his eyes and hers, but with one chance at redemption.

And weapons are made for one purpose.
Will Thorn forever be a pawn in the hands of the powerful, or can she carve her own path?

Half the World is the second installment of Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea Trilogy. The first, Half a King, was one of the first books I reviewed for the blog, courtesy of NetGalley. I’d only recently gotten in to Abercrombie’s work at the time, but was impressed with the structure of the book as much as the story.

And the story was excellent. It is now three years later. Yarvi, the young protagonist and point of view character of Half a King, now minister to his regal uncle, is on a mission to secure alliances. Getland is on an inevitable path toward war with the High King and the cunning Grandmother Wexen, and won’t stand a chance without help.

Yarvi grew into the character presented here in the last book. First at the mercy of his body, his elders, and even to some extent fate, he turned a bad end into an auspicious beginning. Here he’s dangerously cunning and reputed to be so throughout the world. Unlike a lot of Young Adult fiction, the protagonist has been allowed to grow and secure a place in the world.

Abercrombie’s doing something different here. While you still care about his journey and interact with him as a reader, the world has moved on. So we receive the second installment through fresh eyes.

The narrative is split between the points of view of Thorn and Brand. Where Yarvi straddled the gender gap of his society, they grate against it. Everything about them is set in opposition. You probably know where this is going, but the journey there is real.

“Never sail in a ship you can’t carry.”

Structurally, the doubled narrators increase the scope of the series. It grows as it continues. This is intentional. The final book will have three new perspectives of its own. Half a King was a look at one child’s journey into adulthood. Half the World is a critical examination of that world and the opportunities it affords. Thorn and Brand have to traverse it in order to discover themselves.

The story explores and elides binaries. Thorn is driven by masculine traits, yet tempered by feminine realities. The opposite is true of Brand. Pursuing peace, the expedition finds violence. Through violence accord is reached. Death begets hope. Life promises war. With Yarvi propelling the narrative, this “on the one hand… on the other hand” is both obvious and darkly amusing.

As before with the notion of coming full circle, this isn’t just threaded into the plot, it’s integral to the structure. There’s a sequence at the meeting of two rivers where the crew overcomes a literal barrier to complete their journey. But the narrative itself actually makes its 180° exactly halfway through the book. Fortunes change. Stakes rise. Theory becomes praxis and the courses lives, of relationships, indeed of nations are altered.

Half the World has most of what folks love about Abercrombie. He takes the reader on a journey full of the fantastic, mediated by the familiar, and rarely cliché. I can’t wait to see how this ends.

You can read the first seven chapters here.

Recommended for fans of Macbeth, Fitzcarraldo, and Prince Caspian.

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Early Observations about “Best Laid Plans”

The Author shines a light on things and brings down the curtain. Even our toddler has had it with Snow White and Prince Charming. And Rumpbelle is resurrected.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.”

“To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough” (1785) – Robert Burns

This classic poem draws parallels between a farmer’s situation and that of a mouse whose home is destroyed as he plows. It’s a leveling of the field, as it were, ennobling the mouse and humbling the farmer. While the tone of the poem is companionable and its message universal, it’s useful to Once Upon a Time because it reverses the existing order, the theme of 4B.

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
                    Which makes thee startle         10
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
                    An’ fellow-mortal!

Specific to this episode, “Best Laid Plans,” references lines 39 and 40, often translated into modern English as, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” We’re meant to note that for all Snowing’s efforts to ensure Emma’s future, they still ended up at the same verbal exchange Snow witnessed in her vision. It’s extra special because the Apprentice, our mouse, was involved.

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
                    Gang aft agley,         40
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
                    For promis’d joy!

The title is also, again, an hilarious pun. Maleficent’s best laid egg…

Bonus: Jacob Grimm, the elder of the Brothers Grimm who recorded scores of household tales including many of those reinterpreted in Once Upon a Time, was born in 1785.

Was he an Author?

August: There have been many Authors throughout time. It’s a job, not a person. And the one trapped in here was just the last tasked with the great responsibility.
Emma: Which is?
August: To record–to witness the greatest stories of all time and record them for posterity. the job has gone back eons,1 from the man who watched shadows dance across cave walls and developed an entire philosophy,2 to a playwright who told tales in poetry,3 to a man named Walt.4 Many have had this sacred job–great women and men who took on the responsibility with the gravity that it deserved… until this last one.

Eion Baily1

August Booth is played by actor Eion Baily. There’s a chance, however slight, that the word choice here was subtly hinting that he’s the current author or at least a journeyman in training. after all, he was able to add his own story to Henry’s Once Upon a Time book. And he knows more about the Author(s) than anyone outside the Apprentice or the tricksie Peddler himself.


In The Republic, Plato has Socrates desPlato's Cavecribe a gathering of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to designate names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

William Shakespeare3

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. His works have been translated into every major living language. His inclusion in the mythology opens up a huge roster of potential background characters.

Walt Disney4

Often suggested as the Author who’d appear this season, Walt Disney founded the company that owns ABC and has produced several popular interpretations of classic fairy tales. But you knew that.

It’s not entirely unreasonable to suggest that the Author trapped in the book is James Lapine, writer of the postmodern revisionist Into the Woods, the film version of which Disney released last year. It makes Charming’s, “As long as we have each other, we can be the best versions of ourselves,” slyly metatextual.

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Snow White plays Lady Macbeth pretty much straight here. Unable to shake her vision, she pushes herself and her husband to ever more egregious acts of evil until, eventually, she cannot take the consequences anymore.

Isaiah 34:14

Lilith, variously a female demon or wicked fairy. In Jewish folklore she became Adam’s first, equal, wife who refused to submit and rejected Eden. So Maleficent’s exiled daughter has a powerful, resonant, ominous name.

Paradise Lost

Finally, some of the juxtapositions in the Comic-Con trailer make sense. What had been useful as a broad metaphor now has specific referents. The first portion in particular.

Snow: I’ve loved you since the first moment I saw you.
Charming: And I’ll love you until my last

Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,(163)
Our labour must be to pervert that end,(164)

Emma: It’s time for all of us to believe; to believe in each other

And out of good still to find means of evil;(165)

Zelena: I tried to be good once but it wasn’t in the cards.

Snowing sought to secure Emma’s good destiny through an act of evil. Zelena managed to twist several benevolent acts toward her own ends. And, of course, as long as you’ve seen the preview, she’s coming back.

The Poetic Edda

For whatever reason, the building to the left of Gold’s Pawn Shop, if you’re facing it, is fronted with “gudrun.” It could have been there all along, but I only remember seeing it twice this season. In one of the stories in the Edda, Guðrún feeds her husband their sons and burns down his hall.

Once Upon a Time

The non-Frozen portions of 4A really come back in force this episode. We revisit “The Apprentice,” “Breaking Glass,” and “Smash the Mirror” all weigh pretty heavily here. But since we open on Snowing tracking a unicorn for clairvoyant visions, I want to focus on that.

Emma Swan has always been associated with the unicorn and it’s nice to see it brought back into the mythology and reality of the show. The unicorn is a traditional Christian salvific symbol, so it’s entirely appropriate that it be involved with every aspect of her story.

1×01 “Pilot”

This is where we first see the unicorn mobile.  It reappears in Gold’s shop in 1×06 “The Shepherd.”

Unicorn Mobile

In addition to the potential Into the Woods connection above, the acknowledgement that the mobile was a gift from Cinderella opens her, via the recent live action Disney release, as a potential focus next season.

1×02 “The Thing You Love Most”

When Regina confronts Maleficent in order to retrieve The Dark Curse, Mal has a diminutive pet unicorn by her side. Ultimately, it’s her concern for this pet that decides the fight against her. It’s interesting that the other unicorn in the story is at least tangentially linked to Swan’s counterpart, Lily.

Unicorn Title Card1×12 “Skin Deep”

This episode reuses the title card from “Skin Deep.” In that episode the unicorns appear on tapestries in Rumpelstiltskin’s Dark Castle.

The first “Sight” from the series The Lady and the Unicorn. The second only appears after Belle attempts to break Rumple’s curse with true love’s kiss. He tears the cover from the mirror and rants at Regina while “The Unicorn in Captivity and No Longer Dead” from the series The Hunt of the Unicorn overwhelms the background. It’s a subtle scenery clue that the savior is integral to his convoluted plans.

At this point, Rumpelstiltskin, Ingrid, the Sorcerer, the Apprentice, Snowing, and the Author all have designs on Emma Swan. With all that pressure, how much control does she have over her own destiny?

Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

Captain Swan

  • Killian is clearly deeply concerned about the plan to turn Emma into a villain. Emma emphatically reassures him she will not go dark, though Killian speaks from experience when he tells her darkness can creep up on a person. The two share a long comfort hug where clearly they are oblivious to everyone else around them because one foot away Charming and Snow are discussing the thing which cannot be told to Emma and use Emma’s name. That’s a helluva hug.
  • Killian asks how “the wooden man-child” was as a dual conversation starter. Certainly he knows she’s thinking about August’s well-being, but he’s also attempting to dig a little into her feelings for August. Emma sees immediately what he’s up to and tells him, “Now is not the time to be jealous.” “Why would I be jealous?” Killian responds, adding that he knows she’s partial to men in leather jackets. Emma explains that August is just a friend, but since she’s had a rough time making friends, she holds him dear. Then they notice the sleeping curse coming at them and land in the cutest sleeping pose possible, with Emma laying on Killian’s chest.
  • When her parents finally come clean, Killian attempts to comfort Emma by asking if she’s alright and moving to hold her hand, but she pulls it away quickly before he can touch her. She leaves shortly after.
  • Killian finds her later by the pier. She tells him she just needs some time. He knows to skip the discussion of how she’s doing and goes straight to what will relieve some of her anxiety: “August is awake. Your parents are with him.” “Is he?” “He’s going to be fine. Your friend is going to be fine.” Then she hugs him, bringing back the intimacy and comfort she had rejected earlier and allowing him to carry her emotional burden. It’s quite sweet and says much about how much vulnerability she has allowed herself to have with him.


  • Finally, a truly substantive moment for the Rumpbelle shippers out there. Rumple takes his opportunity to be close to Belle during Maleficent’s sleeping spell. He lovingly moves her from the floor to a divan, holds her hand, and speaks softly. “My love,” he begins. He goes on to confess that all magic comes with a cost and he’s wracked up so much magical debt, he’ll never be free of it. He has to change the rules altogether, and quickly. He promises to come back for her if he can and kisses her hand before leaving.

Runaways (Emma/Lily)

  • Emma explains the dearness with which she carries August by reminding Killian of her lost friendship with Lily. Later we find out Lily is Maleficent’s child and thus also Emma’s heart of darkness mate. They are now officially two halves to a whole! The two are meant to be together.

Swan Queen

  • Regina intervenes on Emma’s behalf when Cruella makes a comment about wanting to wring her neck while she sleeps.


  • Although the role these two play in the episode is largely antagonistic, that doesn’t mean that their intentions weren’t motivated by love. The concern they share for their child’s well-being brings them together. In all actions, they are united, though their visions of the child diverge.
  • After they go through with the nefarious plan to imbue another child (Maleficent’s baby) with their child’s darkness, they are haunted by what they’ve done. Snow notes they are no longer heroes, but Charming is more concerned with their relationship: “But we’re still here, so how do we fix us?” Snow again shows her concern is with them being good again. She asks, “Do you really think redemption is possible?” Charming says they must “spread hope and faith everyday” and be the best version of themselves. The two commit to being better heroes to raise their child and keep her on the right track.

Wooden Swan 

  • August falls ill from so many recent magical transformations. Emma is deeply concerned. She is so concerned, in fact, Killian becomes jealous.
  • When August wakes and Emma returns, he asks her what’s going on. She dodges the question, but he sees right through it, reminding her that he knows lying. When she makes a connection about the powers the Author would still have, he comments that she’s come a long way from the woman who wouldn’t believe. There is clear affection and intimacy in his understanding of who Emma is

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Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman_posterCapsule Reviews
Erin: superreal magical real and hyperreal
Michael: you can’t make a statement about breaking a few walls

Erin’s Take:

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is so metaphorical and metafictional, a direct analogy can be drawn from film to title. In it we have a title-subtitle set-up, like in Dr. Stranglelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Immediately there is either a playfulness or pretention to the double title–and audiences will likely fall into seeing it as one or the other. But unlike Strangelove’s title, Birdman’s is given completely unnecessary, misplaced, and/or absurd parenthetical marks. If they made sense grammatically, they would start before “or.” If they were necessary, we could cut the “or” altogether. Instead we have this oddity that either strikes one as amusing through the eccentricity or annoying for the attention-drawing nature of that same eccentricity. Playful or pretentious and gratuitously structured? This question can  also address the film at large.

I find myself feeling about 80/20 on the matter with the weight going to playful.

The playfulness includes a satirical metacommentary on society’s adoration of celebrities, especially in the form of superheroes. Michael Keaton is brilliantly cast as Riggan Thompson, who was once famous for playing the superhero named Birdman back in the early 90’s. Now he’s attempting to revitalize and legitimize his reputation and career through writing, directing, and starring in an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Keaton, like Riggan, also was at the height of fame in the early 90’s when he played Batman in the Tim Burton-directed iterations of the icon. Keaton has taken smaller roles on as he has aged and settled mostly into obscurity. The Burton Batman films have been replaced by the Nolan versions as the ones the general populace thinks of first. Although I cannot speak to Keaton’s motivation for taking this role, it seems possible that starring in an arthouse film like this one could legitimize and revitalize his late(r) acting career–at least the film wants our brains to go that route. And if it’s true, Keaton has succeeded with numerous acting nominations and awards for his portrayal. I know I was impressed with his varying levels of acting performance.birdman-mirror

That’s just one of many examples of how Alejandro Iñárritu has given the film a sneaking, dark humor and self-reflexive mockery.

And it wouldn’t amount to much more than a satirical comedy without strong artistry behind it. Prevalent in this is an ensemble cast of characters that ride the line between drama and parody with ease. Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifianakis are all giving intriguing, humorous performances with Galifianakis surprisingly being the most subdued and realistic. The screenplay layers on the intertextuality, inviting seemingly meaningful connections to “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” Batman (and numerous other superhero films), and Macbeth with further reference to Roland Barthes for the English grad school grad.

What takes the cake–and even the BAFTAs agree–is the cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki is director of photography. Here he doubles down on the long takes of Children of Men and creates a film that appears to be shot continuously. The effect is two fold: it amps up the appearance of realism, but paradoxically it also makes the film feel more surreal because it works against the continuity editing we’re used to.

That’s also a great analogy for the film: surreal realism.

This is a film that gets stuck in its own head (or Riggan’s as the case may be). It asks big, gigantic questions about identity, artistry, and reality, and it doesn’t offer clear answers, if it offers any at all. I enjoyed that immensely, couched in the craft of this cast and crew and married to the playfulness. It has inspired many thoughts and hypotheses on what the film might actually be suggesting. It creates and maintains an ambiguity regarding the reality of what is shown that I admired. Not many films attempt this kind of tight-rope walking, and for the most part Birdman is successful.

Michael’s Take:

I don’t necessarily disagree with anything Erin said. I’m just less enthusiastic about it. This kind of narrative – mirroring, story within a story within etcetera, even the atypical cinematography – is the foundation of my wheelhouse. Maybe I wanted more balance on the playful versus pretentious scale.

There’s a point in the film where the protagonist addresses the audience via proxy and détournés any subjective response. I can say I liked Birdman or I didn’t,  but the principles don’t care. I don’t either, but we’ll save that for later.

There’s nothing here about technique! There’s nothing in here about structure! There’s nothing in here about intentions! It’s just a bunch of crappy opinions, backed up by even crappier comparisons…

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a $22 million film chock full of superhero movie veterans. Movie stars. The very people Riggan Thompson represents, literally and metaphorically. Those people whose artistic integrity is explicitly questioned. Celebrities.

Alejandro Iñárritu’s been nominated for multiple Academy Awards. The director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, won one last year following several previous nominations. Birdman could scarcely be more Hollywood.

Those are facts, not opinions. I can’t speak to intentions, there, but it looks like the deck was stacked pretty heavily in favor of success. And so far its paid off, making twice what it cost. So, in that sense, it’s a successful movie.

Because it’s a movie about a movie star hanging his relevance, his self worth, on a Broadway vanity project, the content reverberates with the context. This is a smallish movie for almost everyone involved. Keaton’s own experience as a former screen superhero informed both his casting and his performance. But perhaps more importantly that resonates with the audience. We can substitute Batman for Birdman and elide reality and fiction.

That’s how we come to the movie. Heck, it’s how we come into it. Icarus falls outside Riggan’s dressing room window as he floats a few feet off the floor with the voice of his eponymous former film persona haranguing him off camera. What is going on? Is this real? So, you see what they did there. The film itself is a metaphor for what’s in the film.

Iñárritu says that the appearance of a continuous shot is meant to keep the viewer in the crisis, that the labyrinthine theater set is intentionally claustrophobic. It’s a crappy opinion, but I think it works. Given the conversations we’ve had about it, it’s difficult to rise above the layered metanarratives and talk about structural elements without slipping back into the context(s) within which they appear.

Birdman 21

Take the quote above. The film is structurally sound. The technique, while not flawless, is expert. Literally hollering about it isn’t necessary. It detracts. It calls into sharp relief clever turns of the script where dialogue reappears or set direction where motifs repeat. It betrays a lack of trust in the audience. Stuff I might have loved without the command to appreciate it ends up reduced to sight gags and suspect flourishes.

I saw Birdman. I recognized the incredible efforts that went into it. The direction, cinematography, and performances are inspiring. I appreciated the finished product as a complex intertextual narrative. It wasn’t perfect. That’s okay. There isn’t any perfect art.  I don’t know if I liked it or if I didn’t like it and that doesn’t really bother me. I’ll probably watch it again a couple times.

4 Stars