As stupid as it sounds, I'm genuinely anxious about this movie. There's so much I want from it, but a lot more that I don't want, and I've had at least one sleepless night worrying about it. Most of my concern has to do with a potential shift in focus, from a range of loveable and diverse heroes to a white male villain and his justification for genocide, patricide, fascism and torture.
I saw a lot of stuff this year, and I'm happy to say that most of it was pretty damn good. It's true that we're living in the golden age of television, and whatever your preferred genre – crime, romance, fantasy, sci-fi, dystopia, adventure, period drama – there's plenty on offer to fit your specific tastes, all of it reaching incredibly high standards.
There was plenty of "much watch" stuff I didn't watch, such as the live-action Beauty and the Beast and the final season of Sherlock, and by all accounts I didn't miss much (I may get to them eventually, if not just to complain about them). But I try to keep this blog relatively upbeat, so below the cut you'll find twelve of the best moments of my television viewing year. Some are humorous, some are heart-warming, but all of them struck a nerve in one way or another.
They're not ranked in any order, though I've tried listing chronologically according to their airdates (to the best of my memory – if I'm wrong, don't bother correcting me as I don't care that much). I did however leave my number one favourite till last...
This is being posted a day late, but I churned through a lot of stuff in November. As someone who doesn't going to the movies that much anymore, I ended up seeing three films this month, two of which were superhero flicks. There were also plenty of graphic novels, a lot of stuff set in the Eighties, the nearing completion of my "finish books series that you started" project, two re-watches, and a horror movie. I love 'em, but I'm kept awake all night afterwards.
Plus, I got TONS of stuff to say about Stranger Things.
It’s dispiriting that some of our greatest female characters were more inspirational hundreds of years ago than their modern-day updates. Irene Adler for example went from one of the few people (and only woman) who successfully outwitted Sherlock Holmes, to a fridged girlfriend (courtesy of Guy Ritchie) and villainous damsel in distress (cheers Moffat).
If the Loathly Lady (also known as Ragnell) has a contemporary counterpart, it would have to be Lady Catrina from Merlin. The character may well have been inspired by the ancient ballad, though she ends up being its total inversion: whereas Ragnell was a beautiful woman under a spell to make her hideously ugly, Catrina is a grotesque troll who disguises herself as a regal beauty. Ragnell was a benevolent figure who only wanted to be free of her terrible curse, Catrina attempts to seduce King Uther for her own gain. And whilst Ragnell’s story concludes with her restored to her true self thanks to the respect and courtesy of her husband, Catrina is run through with a sword after her husband’s eyes are opened to her true appearance.
Why the Merlin writers never capitalized on the story of Gawaine and the Loathly Lady is a mystery for the ages. The script practically writes itself, and Eoin Macken would have been fantastic in the role (I’ll let you decide which actress should have played Ragnell)...
One day King Arthur is hunting in the forest when he’s challenged by a dark knight, who swears to kill him if he does not answer a simple riddle: “what is it that women most desire?” He has a year to find the answer, or his life is forfeit.
Naturally, he asks the question of every woman he meets, but all give him a different answer. He despondently returns to the black knight once the year is up, but on the way comes across a hideous hag sitting on the side of the road, who claims that she knows the correct answer. She’ll give it to him, but on one condition: he’ll promise her hand in marriage to one of his knights. Seeing little choice, Arthur agrees, and knows he’s made the right decision when she reveals that the answer to the riddle is simply: “women most desire their own way.”
Thus the black knight is defeated, though now Arthur faces a grim task – to talk one of his knights into marrying a disgustingly hideous woman. Moved by pity for both lady and liege, Gawaine volunteers, and the two are duly wed. But when the time comes to consummate the marriage, Gawaine is stunned to find that the woman in his bedchamber is actually a beautiful woman, who presents to him a choice: she can remain beautiful to him alone during the nights and transform back into a monster by day, or she can retain her beauty during the day and become a wretched hag by night.
Realizing that either option could cause her equal amounts of grief or happiness, Gawaine concedes the decision to her. And of course, by giving her “her own way”, the curse is broken.
Stories don’t get much more perfect than this, and that there hasn’t been any sort of televised adaptation (at least as far as I know) is a tragedy! It’s not just one of my favourite Arthurian stories, but one of my favourite stories, period.
In case you were wondering, the above picture comes from a retelling by Selina Hastings, with illustrations by Juan Wijngaard. It was my favourite version when I was a kid (though oddly, it omits the lady’s name as Ragnell) and I was lucky enough to find it again at my second-hand bookshop in near-perfect condition.
I'm a little annoyed at myself for wading into this debate, and I'm only posting this now because I spent a whole evening writing it and don't want to have wasted my own time. Suffice to say, if you're tired of on-line drama and the hornet's nest of discussion surrounding villains and redemption and the line between fantasy/reality, then maybe give this post a miss.
As you may have noticed, there's plenty of friction in the Star Wars fandom at the moment, and if you haven't noticed, you can probably guess what (or who) it's about.
Spoilers beneath the cut – nothing major, but if you want to go in completely clean, steer clear.
Having devoured the second season of Stranger Things this month, I'm sure I'm not the only one who suddenly found themselves struck with a desire to revisit all things Eighties. The Goonies was a staple part of my childhood, and probably a formative viewing experience when it comes to my love of treasure hunts, child independence, and Ragtag Bunches of Misfits.
Watching it again years later, I was relieved to find that it holds up really well – not only in its practical effects, but its plot and characterization too. The script is tight, the group dynamics are fun, and there's so much foreshadowing and pay-off strewn throughout. More impressively, the jokes are still funny and the score is fantastic. Even now, the sound of those five descending notes sends shivers down my spine – you know the ones.
To be fair, some people hate this movie. I get where they're coming from and I won't pretend that the nostalgia filter hasn't an effect on my fondness for this movie, but you gotta admit Richard Donner and Stephen Spielburg struck gold with the film's basic premise: "kids hunt for pirate treasure." I'm sold just with that, but they also throw in two elements that raise the stakes exponentially: they need the money to save their homes from developers, and are pursued throughout by dangerous criminals.
There you have it, the ultimate in escapist kid adventures, and there's so much good stuff throughout that I'm going to forego my usual reviewing formatting and write a point-by-point commentary about all my favourite things in this movie...
I have just finished re-watching Da Vinci's Demons for reasons I can't quite explain. It's not under any circumstances an objectively good show: the plots are too messy, the characters too static, the premise too bizarre for that. It never made that big of a splash online, as there was no fandom to speak of – and certainly not much publicity either.
And yet it managed a respectable three seasons (far better shows don't get so lucky) with a beginning, middle and end, and at times I found it truly fascinating – just as much for what it did wrong as it did right. I think I can most liken it to Salem: totally different in content and purpose, but also a three-season, below-the-radar genre show that was consistently entertaining and which I saw through to the end almost despite myself.