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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Faerie Tale Theatre: Rumplestiltskin

Back in April I watched and reviewed the first episode in Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, having never seen it as a child but being interested in its subject matter and Eighties aesthetic. I always meant to continue with the show, but haven't had the chance until now.
On reflection, Rumplestiltskin is a tough fairy tale to adapt. It’s a strange and sad story in a number of ways, centred on a woman who is surrounded on all sides by completely terrifying men. Her father's bragging lands her in captivity, her future husband keeps threatening to kill her if she doesn't obey his impossible commands, and the little man who comes to her rescue demands her firstborn child in exchange for saving her life.
It's horrifying. This woman's only speckle of agency comes when she orders servants to go out and discover Rumplestiltskin's name and so save her child. Yet even after she successfully defeats her baby from God only knows what fate, it's difficult to feel too happy for her: she's still married to a psycho who holds her life in his hands.
How to adapt such a depressing tale for a children's afterschool show?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Reading/Watching Log #11

I read and watched a LOT of stuff this month, which is apparently what happens when you complete your studies and get your diploma. So much free time. It's a bit scary. I clocked in four books, six movies and seven TV shows, plus a show at the Isaac Theatre Royal. Spies, archaeologists, robots, detectives, artists, superheroes – there was no real theme to the content, but it certainly made for an eclectic month.
God knows we're going to need top-notch escapism in the coming years, so hopefully you'll find something here that piques your interest.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Standing Tall #16

This was one of my favourite giraffes, as it had such a simple but clever premise: designed to look like an old-fashioned wooden toy crane. Cranes have become a pretty normal part of the Christchurch landscape in the last few years, and this one was situated in Cathedral Junction: a tram stop under a high glass awning that miraculously escaped any serious damage during the quake.
Called Toy Toys and created by Martyn Giles, who apparently had help from his wife and children, my favourite detail would have to be the wood finish and the wheels on the feet; just to clarify that this is in fact a toy. Plus, it even featured Shrek's Pinocchio on each side.




Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: X-Men Apocalypse

This garbage fire disaster nightmare clusterfuck of a year continues with a series of earthquakes across New Zealand, killing two and causing extensive damage in several coastal towns. I'm reasonably safe where I am, though the difference between this quake and the big ones in 2010 and 2011 is down to just how long it went on for. I was drifting off to sleep when it hit, and for a while I didn't move since we're all used to little shakes every now and then.
But it just kept going and going and going – at the intensity of your average amusement park ride, but still: I was on the verge of serious fear that it wasn't going to stop at all. It must have lasted at least fifty seconds – which doesn't sound like much; but trust me, it does when you're stuck in a shaking building. Afterwards I went outside, feeling so dizzy that I couldn't walk in a straight line. 
But despite kids getting the next day off school, everything went on pretty much as normal. What most people got out of it was this photograph of cows on an island of grass that had been thrust out of the ground by the quake:
Don't worry, we rescued them. Not only that, but we rescued them before air-lifting out tourists stranded in Kaikoura. Priorities.
So against this backdrop of political turmoil and natural disasters, it seems as apt a time as any to review X-Men Apocalypse.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

More Words...

I've found my personal anthem for the next four years. Make it yours as well.

Try and get better and don't ever accept less,
Take a plain black marker and write this on your chest,
Draw a line underneath all of this unhappiness,
Come on now, let's fix this mess,
We can get better,
BECAUSE WE'RE NOT DEAD YET.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Some Words...

It's hard to know what to say or do at times like these. The overwhelming emotion is one of powerlessness: that in the face of bigotry and fear and hate there is nothing anyone can do.
But over the past two days, words have come to me – oddly enough, from poets and authors I haven't read since I was a teenager. Recent events dislodged them in my mind, they rose to the surface, and the memory of them was compelling enough for me to seek them out.
I'm following pure instinct here, but I like to think that there's a smidgeon of fate at work: despite not having read these words in so many years, I was able to effortlessly find them again (a random scroll down through a PDF document landed on the exact passage I was searching for; almost as if it wanted to be found).
Though they may seem somewhat irrelevant, they've brought me some comfort; hopefully they will for you too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Legend of Korra: Beginnings Part I and II

Let me rave about Beginnings.
Only ... I don’t even know where to start really. These two episodes not only revealed the origins of the Avatar, but fleshed out nearly every single story note that the show has ever had. Re-watching the original series will be a brand new experience, as now the viewer is armed with backstory that sheds light on everything from the lion turtles to the nature of bending to humanity's relationship with the spirits to the cosmic forces that shape the world. I’m still reeling a little bit from just how expansive and inclusive it all was.
The entire thing is framed by Korra’s experience as a survivor of a spirit attack that left her washed up on the shores of the Fire Nation, bereft of her memories. Thankfully, instead of something that’s going to be wrung out over the rest of the season for maximum angst, this Easy Amnesia is cleared up by the end of the two-parter, rendering it a simple plot device that provides the narrative excuse for her to float back in time to her very first incarnation.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Woman of the Month: Sorsha


Sorsha from Willow
I was all set to make Princess Moana the Woman of the Month for November – and then I found out that the film doesn't open in New Zealand cinemas until Boxing Day (which seems kinda unfair considering she's a Polynesian princess - we should be getting her first!) So I'm fast-forwarding the entry I had planned for December...
My column Fantasy and Science Fiction Films from the Eighties that Weren't that Bad came to an end in July, and to celebrate I wanted to showcase one of the women from the fifteen movies I ended up watching. But as much as I love these films, it's a task easier said than done in pinpointing a decent female character.
Yes, there were plenty of them, but the fantasy/scifi genre (at least in this decade) wasn't particularly kind to them. It was not only dominated by male characters, but more often than not it reduced many of the women to distressed damsels or supporting characters. I read another review that pointed out most Eighties heroines were hookers, victims or doormats, and it's sadly true – though I would also add "plot device" and "love interest" to the list.
As compelling as they are, the Child-Like Empress from The Neverending Story and Dana Barrett from Ghostbusters fundamentally exist as Distressed Damsels in the narrative, as does Ysabeau from Ladyhawke and Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride.
Others play second-fiddle to the men, such as Kira from The Dark Crystal or Valerian from Dragonslayer, who each start out promisingly enough, only to succumb to Trinity Syndrome, allowing the male protagonists to take over the world-saving action. The same could be said of Brenda in Highlander, introduced as a proactive career woman who takes matters into her own hands – but who is ultimately (and literally) Conner's prize by the end of the story.
Excalibur has Morgana (evil), Guinevere (a pawn) and Igraine (a rape victim whose fate goes completely unexplained). Time Bandits has not a single noteworthy female character to speak of. Ditto Gremlins.
I seriously considered Princess Lili from Legend or Sarah from Labyrinth, both of whom go through fascinating coming-of-age journeys in their respective films, but they still aren't standouts compared to other characters I've featured in the past. And as good as Fairuza Balk is in Return To Oz, I've already covered Dorothy Gale this year.
Then I realized: Sorsha from Willow.
Though she's certainly not as iconic as the likes of Xena Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Princess Leia Organa, Sorsha still makes for a recognizable figure with her red hair and serrated sword, and her role in the film is surprisingly progressive for its time.
Sure, her characterization is still contingent on a High Heel Face Turn, in which the bravado and attractiveness of the male hero is enough to make her betray her mother, but Sorsha is a unique component in a movie that otherwise shamelessly cherry-picks from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. At a stretch, Sorsha is a blend of Eowyn and Leia – if Leia had been raised by Darth Vader and if Eowyn had been able to ride into battle without disguising herself as a man.
That's right, the most interesting thing about Sorsha's role in the film is that no one ever questions her abilities as a leader or warrior. She's never objectified by the camera, there are never any gendered slurs used against her, and her armour is imminently practical.
In general, Willow is a fantasy film teeming with women in a way others simply aren't. Most have a token girl (usually a love interest and/or a distressed damsel) but as well as Sorsha, Willow has a woman as its Big Bad, its Living MacGuffin and its Wizard Classic. A woman makes the entire plot possible when she saves Elora's life at the start of the movie, and another provides Willow with the tools he needs to complete his quest. Heck, it even passes the Bechdel Test! Even today you don't see this level of representation.

All that taken into account, I like to think that perhaps Sorsha had a much bigger impact on the fantasy genre than we give her credit for...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Links and Updates

Now that Halloween is over, Christmas seems closer than ever – and with that, the New Year. Let's face it: 2016 has been a bit of a disaster, and though I try to focus mostly on popular entertainment on this blog, that hasn't been particularly stellar either. If anything, 2016 will be remembered in fandom as the year of reboots, remakes, and killing off female characters.
There have been a few exceptions: Constance was granted unexpected clemency on The Musketeers, and the writers of Orphan Black backtracked on their decision to kill off Delphine. As well as that, two lights shine hopefully on the horizon: Princess Moana and Jyn Erso.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Review: Cinderella (2015)

It's Halloween, which means I should be writing about scary stories of some description – but instead I caught up with last year's Cinderella. Enjoy my interminable nit-picking.
Remember 2015, that halcyon age which bore a seemingly endless bounty of enjoyable and interesting female characters? There were warriors and scavengers and princesses and spies, and most if not all were the protagonists of their own stories, with agency and drive and complexity.
Cinderella was one of these heroines, and though she didn't make quite as big a splash as the likes of Rey or Imperator Furiosa, she was (and always has been) noteworthy for being the poster child for goodness and kindness; two qualities that are difficult to depict on-screen, if they're ever considered important enough to depict at all.
Here is a female character that does no martial arts, sword fighting or other forms of ass-kicking across the course of her story; if she has any sort of special skill it's simply the ability to persevere in the face of domestic abuse. That's it: that's her story. At worst it can be described as a very patriarchal tale about a girl who goes from the loving arms of her father to the loving arms of her husband, with an unpleasant stint in-between involving lots of housekeeping and women being complete bitches to her.
But for many people it's the story of escaping an abusive home without compromising your own goodness – admittedly with a little wish-fulfilment thrown in. After all, Cinderella marries a prince, not the delivery boy. (Unless you're reading Ella's Big Chance by Shirley Hughes, which you really should because it's adorable and delightful).
The fact this story been adapted so many times over is a testament to how popular it is, so it's hardly a surprise that it was among the first of Disney's recent influx of live-action adaptations of their animated canon. Now join me as I pick it apart!