I have some news: I have a new job! I've been offered (and accepted) a Library Assistant position, and my training starts at the beginning of next month. This naturally means I'll have a lot less time to post on this blog, but I'm looking forward to the work ahead of me. Among other things, it'll speed up the process of getting my plane ticket to England!
It's been a rough week in terms of global news, with humanity continuing to prove its commitment to Being Awful, and even my usual remedy of unwinding with books and shows didn't do much to help considering the season finale of Into The Badlands. (Let's just say that 2016's trend of fridging female characters has continued).
But there have been other fandom treats to distract us, many of which I'm sure you've already seen...
I knew that more depth on Laura was coming, but I definitely didn't expect it to take up an entire episode! Having read the book earlier this year, my impressions of her are a little vague – most of the time she seemed more plot-point than character, so I was intrigued to hear that Bryan Fuller was taking the opportunity to provide some insight into her thoughts and choices, especially in what was already going to be a sprawling show.
Expanding material derived from the novel is one thing, but much of what we learn about Laura here is completely original – and given my own bout of existential crisis last year, a little harrowing to watch at times. Emily Browning's Laura Moon is a woman who finds nothing meaningful or interesting in life, dragging herself through the tedium of her daily routine as she waits endlessly for something to wake her up (figuratively speaking). It never comes.
With the recent release of Guy Richie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and the subsequent reviews (let's just say they have not been kind), I decided to revisit what is generally considered the best filmic adaptation of Arthurian legend.
To say "best" is relative. The truth is that Hollywood has never managed to get a handle on the stories of King Arthur – perhaps because the mythology is so sprawling; perhaps because Arthur himself isn't anything like the typical anti-hero that modern filmmakers love, perhaps because he's quintessentially British in a way an American industry can't quite grasp (as opposed to Robin Hood, whose devil-may-care, stick-it-to-the-man attitude translates much better to Hollywood sensibilities).
If Arthur has a flaw, it was his inability to condemn his wife and best friend out of love for them (at least not until it was too late), or how his commitment to law and justice alienated allies looking for special favours. Or, you know, that one time he slept with his half-sister who then gave birth to an incestuous bastard who eventually killed him on the battlefield.
In any case, not of it translates well into the "flawed hero" archetype. In fact, a lot can be read into Guy Ritchie's interview in which he says:
I think where the pitfall has often been is trying to make King Arthur bland and nice, and nice and bland. The two qualities make rather compatible bed companions. Unfortunately, they’re not interesting to watch. Luke Skywalker was always the most uninteresting character in Star Wars because he’s the good guy. Good guys are boring.
With that attitude, is it any wonder that no one has ever done King Arthur justice? But John Boorman certainly made the attempt, and though the result is a rather strange affair, with composite characters, shifting perspectives, massive time-skips, and hefty symbolism to get across some of the finer details, it has a hypnotic quality that makes it worth at least one watch...
Obviously this episode left everyone buzzing over that love scene, but I'm going to take a step back and look at the wider context, as by this time it's becoming clear that certain ideas and images strewn through the first three episodes are linked in significant ways – even if we can't see the pattern yet.
This episode took things slow, and I imagine anyone not familiar with the book is completely bewildered. Heck, I read the book for the first time just recently and I'm having trouble figuring out what some of this stuff means.
It starts with the scene everyone was talking about in early reviews of the show, so enthusiastically that I was afraid it would be overhyped: Orlando Jones as Anansi appearing to a ship's hold of African men and enticing a mutiny to overthrow the Dutch slavers. Turns out, it was just as good as promised.
The Princess and the Frog came with a lot of high expectations and close scrutiny, mostly down to the fact it featured Disney's first African-American princess and that it was a return to the 2D animation that the studio was renowned for (their last had been the awful Home on the Range back in 2004).
The film was also meant to herald the triumphant return of the Disney fairy tale, something spelt out pretty blatantly in its early trailers, which began with clips from Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.
In many ways, it fulfilled its promises. It was released to positive reviews (sitting at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes) and certainly made a healthy profit – but apparently not as much a profit as Disney would have liked, sealing the fate not only of 2D animation but also the treatment of all fairy tale films to come.
I feel like I've been waiting forever for this show – along with The Handmaid's Tale – and now that both have arrived, it feels like Christmas. I read Neil Gaiman's American Gods for the first time earlier this year; now I'm all primed and ready to see what Brian Fuller and his team do with the material.
Before you read, know that there are going to be "opaque spoilers" throughout this review. Gaiman's story has several characters (one in particular) that operate under pseudonyms and false identities, and though I don't plan on explicitly stating these spoilers, it may be apparent to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of puns and/or mythology who I'm talking about, so consider yourself warned.
As it happened, I saw the trailer to American Gods before reading the novel, and was a little baffled by its surreal images and the dialogue. After reading the book, I was in raptures. The casting is perfect! The visuals are glorious! This is everything that an American Gods adaptation should be, and already some of the liberties taken with the text only serve to elevate the story's complexity in theme and content.
If you're not watching Into the Badlands, maybe you should be, especially if you were disappointed by Iron Fist. With only six episodes in its first season and ten in its second, it's easy enough to whip through the show in a matter of hours. It boasts a truly unique aesthetic (feudal plantations of America blended with fantasy wuxia of Japan), a story based on Journey to the West, incredible fight scenes, and enough political intrigue and backstabbing to put Game of Thrones to shame.
And there are some great female characters too. Among the main cast there are two master manipulators (Lydia and Jade) and two formidable warriors (Tilda and the Widow), but this month I'm going with Veil, for reasons that might surprise you.
The past four women I've chosen this year have all been fighters of some description. In contrast, Veil is a gentle, nurturing, soft-spoken physician, the love interest to the male lead and (this season) the mother of his infant child. Her physical limitations and lack of political clout means she doesn't have a lot of what we might call agency, and yet she's a perfect example of how a woman doesn't necessary need to in order to be a compelling character.
In other words, sometimes writers get so caught up in making their female characters "kickass" that they forget to make them human. Not in this case.
Although she has the narrative function of being Sunny's Morality Pet, she also has storylines of her own that explore the ways she uses her medical expertise to help or hinder others (in this Crapsack World, there's clearly no such thing as a Hippocratic Oath).
She's the embodiment of Silk Hiding Steel, though the second season has started to deconstruct her former position as the ethical and emotional heart of the show. Now that she's a mother, she finds herself desperately trying to escape a dangerous situation, morally compromising herself in order to secure a future for her son – and some of these tough decisions are returning to haunt her.
Not just "the love interest" and not just "the moral compass", Veil is a woman with limited options, but enough strength and fortitude to survive in a world that has already killed much hardier characters.