Tag Archives: Fantasy

The Princess Bride (1987)

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Rob Reiner’s perennial classic, based on William Golding’s novel of the same name, has the power to make you believe in true love. And perfect movies. Is it cheesy? Hell yeah. The backdrops look like sets in a stage play, the special effects are ludicrous by today’s jaded standards, and the female lead, in classic fairy tale fashion, is suitably helpless and pathetic. It’s corny, and could by considered dated compared to recent blockbusters, but it’s also terrific. Because this fairy tale classic has all the great storytelling and timeless quotability of ten average box-office smashes.

“The Princess Bride” ought to be a part of everyone’s childhood. If you didn’t watch it at least once as a child or tween, I find your youth to be a little… lacking. I mean no offense, there’s certainly a lot more to having a great childhood than watching one movie, but there you go.

In a nondescript American home, the preteen and otherwise-unnamed Grandson (Fred Savage) is sick with the fever when his Grandfather (Peter Fonda) comes over with a special present for him. The kid is thrilled until he discovers the contents of the gift- a old book passed from generation to generation, ‘The Princess Bride.’ In meta fashion, this story-within-a-story follows Buttercup (Robin Wright,) a spoiled princess who soon discovers her condescension toward handsome  stable boy Wesley (Cary Elwes) turn to love. When she realizes their mutual devotion for each other, she yearns to spend her life with him, but circumstance forces them apart when Wesley seeks his fortune at sea and is kidnapped by the infamous Dread Pirate Roberts.

Buttercup presumes Wesley to be dead and swears never to love again, but is forced into a sham marriage with the arrogant and heartless Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon.) Shortly before they are to be wed, Buttercup is abducted by a gentle giant with a gift for wordplay (Andre the Giant), an alcoholic sword-fighting Spaniard (Mandy Patinkin,) and their squat, corpulent Sicilian boss (Wallace Shawn.) Upon learning that the swordsman and the giant are not as bad as they seem, it becomes a matter of getting the Sicilian out of the picture, and Buttercup is taken on the adventure of a lifetime which just might spell out a reunion between her and the long-disappeared Wesley.

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Meanwhile, we get a preteen boy’s feedback on the more romantic aspects of the story (kissing? eeeww!) and within the context of the fantasy tale we get the bigger context of the film- a grandfather’s love for his grandson, the kindling of a livelong love for stories and reading, and a fostering of the simpler, more old-fashioned things in life. In today’s society this is especially relevant- we need to slow the fuck down occasionally and experience the pleasures of a book, a favorite song, or a beloved old film. Nowadays the world is available at the click of a button; with vines, Youtube, selfies, Facebook, and Instagram, we are developing shorter and shorter attention spans. The internet is a gift, but is it also a curse,  and it is making ADD patients of all of us.

he Grandfather takes the kid, for a while at least, outside the world of instant gratification and into the world of Nostalgia and genuine feeling. Oh, and “The Princess Bride” has so many wonderful quotes. If this were a book (which it is, I just haven’t read it) I would be leaning over that sucker with a pen and highlighter. There’s so many memorable lines to share and quote at will; I would be working on this review all night if I decided to share them all. As I said, it’s an old-fashioned movie. There’s no in-jokes, fart gags, car chases, explosions, or CGI. But is not dated: There is a marked difference. To say something is dated is to imply it has less value then it did twenty-something years ago.

The actors are simply wonderful- talented Thespians at the height of their craft. If I could change one thing about this movie I would make Buttercup a little ballsier- she’s quite a wet sandwich and don’t even get me started with the scene where she fights the Rodent of Unusual Size that’s goring Wesley (that’s it, princess! Poke it to death!) Even if you’re sold on the supposed timidity of women as opposed to their masculine counterparts, let’s face it- a real woman (one who loved her beau) would have gone for the skull on that sucker.

If you’ve missed out on “The Princess Bride,” it is imperative that you watch it at least once before you die. It’s one of those classics that’s a must watch whether you’re young or old, and it won’t affect your enjoyment of the film whether you’re ten or a hundred, just out of the cradle or with one proverbial foot already in the grave. And if you like this movie, I recommend Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel, “Stardust.” Ebert said it didn’t measure up to “The Princess Bride.” He’s wrong. They’re both wonderful, wonderful films, and I think every child deserves to have them as part of their childhood.

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Up (2009)

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Not only does Up hold a long-standing place in my heart as my favorite Pixar film, it just might be my favorite animated film, period. It might be a slightly prosaic choice (as a independent movie enthusiast and borderline film snob, shouldn’t I pick something more obscurely cutting edge, maybe a mind-blowing, little-known Asian Anime?) but frankly, I don’t give a crap. It’s just that good.

My advice to the uninitiated is this- if you haven’t seen “Up”, stop reading this review right now and rent it, stream it, splurge on a purchase if you have to. Take your kid, take a friend’s kid, take yourself. It isn’t just ‘another kids movie,’ it’s got a huge spectrum of emotions and it sports one of the most beautiful opening sequences in film, period.

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Laughter, feels, and tears are all on naked display in this testament to childhood dreams and adulthood regrets as we follow elderly widower Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) and chubby eight-year-old Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) on the adventure of a lifetime. Carl, age seventy-eight, is a man with a lifelong dream; to take his wife Ellie to the site of their childhood obsession, the exotic and magical Paradise Falls.

We see a sequence with Ellie and Carl as children discovering their mutual interest in visiting Paradise Falls followed by a beautiful montage of the couple growing old together, which ends, sadly and perhaps inevitably, in Ellie’s deterioration and death (gently but heartbreakingly portrayed in a few oblique scenes of a hospital stay and Carl sitting, alone and dejected, next to the casket after the funeral.)

An undetermined amount of time passes following Ellie’s death, and Carl has grown into the quintessential grumpy old man, still grieving for his wife and his own inability to take her to Paradise Falls. When a rage-fueled mishap lands Carl on the direct route to a nursing home, the retired balloon salesman ties thousands of colorful balloons to his quaint little house and- surprise!- sails away before the rest home attendants who have arrived to take him away’s very eyes.

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There’s one little problem… Russell, the Wilderness Explorer kid determined to get his final badge for assisting the elderly, who in the process of pestering Carl gets stuck on the front porch when the house sets sail. After landing (rather conveniently) in Paradise Falls, Carl and Russell encounter talking dogs, including the sweet but dim Retriever Dug (Bob Peterson,) a sexually ambiguous exotic bird, but also a maniacal villain (Christopher Plummer) intent on taking what he believes is rightfully his.

Along the way, the sheltered Russell traverses the wilderness for the first time in his life, but is is Carl who learns lessons about bravery, letting go, and moving on from unfathomable grief. The irresistible Dug offers plenty of comic relief, and an unbreakable bond is forged between man and boy, man and dog, triggering a significant change in Carl’s attitude toward himself and life in general.

You know the old adage, ‘it will make you laugh and cry?’ It’s a bit stereotypical, but “Up” is one of the few movies that actually lives up to that saying. It’s heartfelt, funny, and surprisingly deep for a kids movie. But that’s just the thing. It isn’t just for kids, it appeals to all ages with it’s genuinely emotive storytelling, bright and textured animation, and timeless story of hope and renewal triumphing over resignation and bitterness.

“Up” is cute and charming, as lovable as holding a squirming puppy in your arms, but it never stoops to kitsch or silliness, or God forbid, being TOO cute (like the maudlin “Precious Moments” statuettes that are ubiquitous on aging Mormons’ mantelpieces.) Instead of sinking to the level of Saturday-Morning cartoon slapstick, “Up” takes a real human story and infuses it with extraordinary elements (an airborne house, dogs with collars that cause them to speak and quip like human beings.)

The fact that it’s not the other way around (a fantastical story with realistic features slapped on as an afterthought) is a very important distinction to make. Only a viewer with a heart of solid granite could remain dry-eyed through this film’s heartrending first twenty minutes, but it is by no means a bleak film. It’s a celebration of life, and what all of us have to offer to  and beyond the point of old age. We recognize the characters not as cartoons, but as manifestations of our own longings and emotions; and that humanity- the kind of feeling that transcends the majority of animated films- is what makes “Up” so special.

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Westlake Soul by Rio Youers

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With a premise like this, ‘Westlake Soul’ could be an absolute horror show, but Rio Youers’ skillful blend of liberating fantasy and harrowing reality manages not to fall into this trap; bittersweet, moving, quietly heartbreaking, definitely. A morbid geek show of suffering and tragedy, no. Bad things sometimes happen to good people; the peculiarly named Westlake Soul (former surfing champion and the son of aging hippies) is all too familiar with this. Like Shawn McDaniel, the protagonist of Terry Trueman’s ‘Stuck in Neutral,’ Westlake is trapped within his own body and rendered thoroughly unable to communicate.

While ‘Stuck in Neutral”s principal character suffered from debilitating Cerebral Palsy, Westlake is in a persistent vegetative state following a near-fatal surfing accident. A keen mind trapped within  a broken body, Westlake cannot convince anyone of his sentience. So when his grieving parents decide to disengage his feeding tube, Westlake must prepare for a slow, painful death by starvation while his parents, totally unaware of his cognizance, look on.

This all sounds terribly grim and depressing, but the subject matter is lightened somewhat by Westlake’s sense of humor and resilience concerning his mortality as well as his best-kept secret- Having had 100% of his mental capacity awakened by the accident, Westlake discovers the powers of astral projection and ESP, as well as an active fantasy life (?) where he plays the role of an able-bodied superhero battling the evil Doctor Quietus, the very personification of death.

In between astral projecting himself wherever he wants, carrying on long conversations with Hub, the family dog, and falling in love with his beautiful carer Yvette, Westlake watches as everyone he loves gives up believing in the possibility of his recovery. He is the ultimate passive observer- as inert and impotently defenseless as a lawn ornament, but mentally able and even capable of the most extraordinary power of all, finding humor and hope in his terrible situation.

Sometimes Westlake’s character seems a bit glib and immature as well as overly sexual minded (you can astral project anywhere in the universe so you go to Angelina Jolie’s pad to watch her take a shower??) but we have to remember we are reading the narrative of a 21-year-old guy, one who just months ago was getting smashed at beach parties and nightclubs. The caretaker eroticism is a little icky (the protagonist yearning over his dream girl while she changes his diaper,) but it’s not as disturbing as Yvette’s apparent returning of his affections.

What was with that kiss? Yes, Westlake is sentient and fully willing, but Yvette has no way of knowing that. While Westlake was enthusing about how awesome the kiss was, I kept thinking “she kissed a diaper-clad vegetable? With tongue?” Good luck finding a novel where a male caretaker smooches (i.e. molests) a female patient in a persistent vegetative state. On the other hand, the author does an amazing job of balancing the fantasy elements (Doctor Quietus and Westlake’s special powers) with the heartrending family drama and emotional significance of the family’s final decision.

I’m not ashamed to admit I teared up twice during this novel’s touching passages regarding love and mortality. When you think about it, Westlake’s a pretty profound guy, albeit young and rather immature in some respects. “Westlake Soul” has been described as a superhero book, but to call it a comic book-esque novel would be to misrepresent it, as well as it’s considerable depth. “…Soul” is less of a book about heroes, super or otherwise, and more a book about life- the unfairness of it, but also the beauty, the wonder, and the gift of being human. Westlake reminds us how tenuous our fragile grip on life is, and how we can’t take that fragility for granted. And he makes you laugh as well. That perhaps, is the greatest gift he imparts.

Maleficent (2014)

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If I ruled a kingdom neighboring this femme fatale, I’d make sure to be on very, very good terms.

As far as I’m concerned, the majority of classic Disney princess movies are sacred cows- shallow, one-sided, and featuring fair maidens too stupid to tie their own shoes, let alone entice a handsome prince of any substance. I can’t even recall if I’ve even seen the original “Sleeping Beauty,” which makes me, I think, the perfect audience for this unfairly maligned movie. “Maleficent” is certainly not a perfect movie. It’s over dependent on CGI, firstly, and Maleficent’s transformation from villain to sympathetic character can be uneven and rocky.

Unspectacular as it was, I ask myself, was I entertained? I answer this question with an emphatic yes. I had been depressed the day I watched this movie, and it took my mind off my problems for an hour and a half. I didn’t find myself fidgeting in my seat, or checking the time, or rolling my eyes at improbabilities. It was fun, pure and simple, and what’s wrong with that? And Angelina Jolie is surprisingly good in the lead.

According to this story, Maleficent, the evil fairy who cursed the princess Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty,” did not start out as a villainess. She began, as many troubled and evil people do, as an innocent child. But she was no ordinary child by any means, being born to the fairy folk, orphaned, and left to traverse her magical kingdom and birthright. Maleficent is gifted (cursed?) with a pair of horns and wings, which make her look uncanny if not downright monstrous to the ignorant folk of the neighboring kingdom.

When young Maleficent meets Stefan, she falls in love with the curious and initially accepting boy, never guessing that her love for him will become the singular most destructive force in her life. Maleficent, unsurprisingly, becomes leader of her realm, whereas Stefan (Sharlto Copley) seeks power in unexpected places. When Stefan commits the ultimate betrayal, Maleficent curses his newborn daughter and closes off her heart to all. But she never counted on Aurora (Elle Fanning) coming back into her life again slowly bringing her cold heart to a simmer.

The concept of the fractured fairy tale is not original, but “Maleficent” brings warmth and humor to a tired premise. The original idea is twisted by making Maleficent not a soulless she-devil, but a rightfully indignant and complex antihero. In fact, Aurora’s fairy ‘protectors’ (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville) are so in need of a prompt fairyland CPS visit that Maleficent is forced to aid the very child she swore to hate and malign forever.

There’s more focus on these characters than you might expect considering the film is shot on a blue screen with extravagant special effects. Both the protagonist (anti-hero) and the antagonist are surprisingly consistent, facing their own demons in their individual broken ways. Nobody gives a weak performance in a visually beautiful (if aesthetically self-indulgent) twist on a classic fairy tale which was, let’s face it, pretty weak and creepy originally (of course there’s nothing weird about princes going around kissing apparently dead maidens, rrriiight?) 😛

Jolie, who I’ve never been the most avid fan of, actually surprised me in this. She juggles bile and vulnerability, the result of a love affair gone tragically sour effectively, especially with this kind of movie, which let’s face it, doesn’t focus on acting as much as special effects and self-aware humor. “Maleficent” isn’t a masterpiece (but what do you expect, “The Godfather?”) but it achieves it’s goal of being a fun, cute and charming tale with effective humor and thrills incorporated throughout.

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Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

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Occasional bad luck is inevitable. Dana, the protagonist of ‘Kindred”s luck is cataclysmic. A strong willed and -minded black woman married happily to a white older man, she is transported through time and space without so much as a how-do-you-do to slavery-era Baltimore to save her white ancestor, Rufus Weylin, from an untimely death. Without Rufus’ inevitable union with a slave woman, little Dana will never come to be- or so she believes as she returns time and time again throughout Rufus’ life to save him, increasingly cognizant of what a sadistically self-obsessed monster he is gradually becoming.

“Kindred” is my first book by Octavia E. Butler, and I was struck by how well it delivers on it’s sumptuously creative premise. It is a speculative work of fiction, but is anything but fantastical when dealing with the hardships of the slaves on the Weylins’ plantation. Seeing Dana try to hide her education and her fierce independence in attempts to play the role of a ignorant, subservient slave held a kind of morbid fascination for me. In Rome, do as the Romans do. But in this case you pretty much have the equivalent of a red target painted against your cursedly brown flesh.

As it turns out, time travel works in this kind of like the wormhole to Narnia. Dana is summoned back to the past only to find that was hours for her, turns out to be years for the people left behind in the past. ‘Kindred’ never lets you forget the spiraling disorientation of living in such a changeable reality.

Dana is a well-developed character, weakened but not weak, strong but not infallible. Even Rufus himself, sniveling bastard that he grows up to be, is painted with nuance and ambiguity, rather than thick, derisive strokes. You can see that Rufus is a worthless chode, but you can comprehend how he came to be that way, and hopefully regard him at brief moments with pity, rather than with all-consuming (and for all intents and purposes, well deserved) hatred.

I found the writing in “Kindred” both pragmatic (no frills to be found) and compelling. I was a little put off by how careless Dana, and later, her husband Kevin are at changing the timeline. Actions have consequences, every science fiction-slash- time travel buff knows that. But Dana and Kevin take no heed of the drastic ways they effect historical events.

Also, it was weirdly icky how Butler described Rufus’ continual sexual exploitation of the slave girl, Alice, as love, albeit, a ‘destructive love.’ It was old-fashioned and sometimes downright gross, and I thought that Butler , as a feminist and a woman , would no better than to call assault anything but what it is, assault. Love is wanting what’s best for someone. Rufus certainly didn’t want what was best for Alice, he wanted what was best for himself.

He was a sad little boy who grew into a nasty, pathetically small-minded man, having learned nothing but cruelty and hatred from his father. I liked how his relationship with Dana, his savior, stayed ambiguous throughout (until the end when thing went down in a big way.) It made the book so much more interesting than if she had just hated and been repulsed by him.

More than a science fiction novel, ‘Kindred’ goes beyond mere concept, delivering a pulse-pounding story with a compelling cast of characters. In a time and culture where slavery is a distant concept hidden away in history books, ‘Kindred’ takes it to the forefront of our attention as we watch history unfold with Dana. Like Dana, we are riveted and deeply moved. Unlike Dana, we experience it from the comfort of our own home. ‘Kindred’ isn’t just a must read for science fiction lovers. It’s a must read, period. Fin.

Into the Woods (2014)

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From the opening scene (and song,) I had a sneaking feeling that “Into the Woods” wasn’t going to work for me. The musical sequences in this film are ponderous and transitionally awkward, while the plot lacks cohesion. And while I appreciated the fact that dark elements from the original fairy tales that “Into the Woods” portrays are upheld in this reimagining, I’m still not sold on a extremely pedo Johnny Depp ambling around as the ‘big bad wolf’ stalking a prepubescent Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) singing about deliciously plump little girl flesh. I know the original tale has some predatory and not exactly savory implications, but puh-leeze! Did Johnny Depp think this role of all things would give his flaccid career a jumpstart?

In this unevenly written attempt to mesh multiple classic fairy tales, ‘Baker’ (James Corden) and ‘Baker’s Wife’ (Emily Blunt) (Nice to know they put so much thought into the lead protagonists” names eh? 😛 ) want to conceive a child desperately, and a witch (played by Meryl Streep) materializes in their bakery one day to say that the reason that Baker is shooting blanks is because of a curse that befell Corden’s father (Simon Russell Beale) before him. The witch proceeds to info them that they need to obtain four magic artifacts in order to break the curse. First. a cow as white as milk, which belongs to a bubble-headed boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone.)

Second a cape as red as blood (see if you can figure that one out.) The other two, I will leave you to find out for yourself should you decide to watch the movie. Only when the couple have acquired the magic objects can they bear a child. And when the lives of various fairy tale characters intersect in the woods, nothing will ever be the same.

First of all, I cannot believe that Meryl Streep got nominated for an academy award. I mean, she’s not bad. ‘Not bad.’ She’s certainly not award material. As it become kosher to hand Streep an Oscar every time she goes to get her car keys (no offense to Mrs. Streep, who is talented as well as nontraditionally beautiful.) She just didn’t rock my world here. The entire cast was less than spectacular, though Corden comes off best as a well-intentioned buffoon.

The real problem, however, was the plotting. Big things seem to lead to more big things with little cohesive connection. The storyline is pretty convoluted (though not, to be fair, as convoluted as the later years of “Lost.”) In other words, I knew what was happening,  it just didn’t flow well. The climactic fight scene was a joke- a few stones are slung and a massive villainess who should have been epic wordlessly drops to her demise. Several major deaths also prove to be majorly underwhelming. One character simply gets pushed to the ground (or it seemed to me) and is dead in the next scene. Why? It’s a plot contrivance, that’s why.

There are moments of magic, but they’re few and far between in this rather silly movie. If you like fractured fairy-tales, watch “The Princess Bride,” “Shrek,” or the very entertaining TV series “Once Upon a Time.” While “Into the Woods” might enthrall some, I found it to be a disappointing misfire.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Quipping, self-aware superheroes save the day in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a fun if somewhat overhyped action/sci-fi helmed by James Gunn, the director of dark comedies such as “Slither” and “Super.” “Guardians of the Galaxy” never takes itself too seriously, which is a good thing, but there are some painfully standard characters and set-ups, such as Zoe Saldana playing the sexy fantasy femme fatale who doesn’t take shit from anybody for about the hundredth time, and to some extent even Chris Pratt as the stoic, smart alecky muscle bound protagonist.

These aren’t bad characters, we just feel like we’ve seen them and their kin before, in many, many blockbusters. And we have haven’t we? That doesn’t make the experience not fun. Bereaved kid turned intergalactic crook Peter Quill (Pratt) acquires a artifact of overwhelming power, but he doesn’t realize it’s significance until a genetically engineered raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper,) his tree companion (voiced by Vin Diesel), and a deadly female assassin (Saldana) try to take it from him.

Together the four of them must escape from a secure prison in the recesses of space and make the decision to work together- despite their complete dislike for each other- and defeat Ronan (Lee Pace,) a maniacal dictator who wants to wipe out an entire race of people as well as anyone who stands in his way. Accompanied by his three former adversaries and an angry extraterrestrial named Drax (Dave Bautista) who is determined to kill Ronan in retaliation for the death of his wife and daughter, Peter goes on an epic adventure that could result in new lives for he and his four companions- or their deaths.

I’ll be honest- this movie didn’t rock my world. I guess I was just expecting more than what I got considering all the hype. That said, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a shamelessly fun and entertaining film that bears up to multiple viewings. Is it particularly unique in the universe of superhero movies? Sadly, no. But it’s well-done for its kind of movie, although it doesn’t break spectacularly out of the confines of it’s genre. The performances are charming, the special effects stunning, and the humor fresh, frenetic, and funny.

The Rocket Raccoon-Groot duo comes off best out of a buoyant if sometimes standard cast of characters, although the romance between Peter and Gamora (Saldana) is beyond predictable. I liked the look of Ronan, the main villain (although he himself could have been a bit more compelling) but Ronan’s superior baddie looked beyond lame with his obviously CGI features and massive chin. Although “Guardians of the Galaxy” is not a great film, it is a good one, and it doesn’t take an outstanding critic to see that it is a fun one. I only hope that the upcoming sequel will be up to par.

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Paperhouse (1988)

When I was a little girl, my younger brother and I were convinced if we strapped enough household wires to each other and fell asleep in the same bed, we could meet each other in our dreams. Of course, my mom told us it was impossible, but that didn’t stop us from trying. Children with my wild imagination and faith in the impossible would love the concept of “Paperhouse.”

Of course, “Paperhouse” has a very adult angle that makes it, ultimately, best for grown-ups. 11-year-old Anna (Charlotte Burke,) who is at that age where kids mouth off to their elders and will pick a fight over absolutely anything, faints in school on her birthday and is discovered to have a raging fever.

Bizarrely, when Anna faints, she discovers that when she’s unconscious or asleep, she enters a world entirely unlike her own- to be precise, to a remote house she has drawn before her dizzy spells began. In the house she meets a boy, physically handicapped Marc (Elliot Speirs, who died at a tragically young age,) who bears startling similarities to a boy with muscular dystrophy who Anna’s doctor (Gemma Jones) is seeing, and who Anna has never met outside to dream world.

Anna’s unspoken issues with her well-meaning but hard-drinking father (Ben Cross) show up too when a fictional recreation of dad shows up at Anna and Marc’s secret hideaway, raging, evil, and wielding a hammer. Caught between wakefulness and forever sleep by her life-threatening fever, Anna must fight for her sanity and her life, as well as the life of her newfound friend.

Contrary to certain opinions, I found the acting in this to be quite effective, from most of the child players as well as the adults. The kids aren’t always the best, but what do you expect with newbies to the craft? Despite her brattiness, I didn’t find Anna to be an unlikable character- actually, I saw her as a bright and willful child struggling to cope with a childhood harder than most.

The psychological angle here is really fascinating- Anna’s mostly loving if distant father becomes a malformed monster in her dreams, while her mother (Glenne Headly) fails or refuses to see her husband’s alcoholism and the rift between him and their daughter. It resounded with me for entirely personal reasons, and I loved the entertaining yet insightful script.

The set pieces here are also magnificent, and this movie has one of the scariest and most memorable dream sequences I’ve ever seen, the kind of thing that haunts the nightmares of any children unfortunate enough to watch it. The score, however, is mediocre- mostly typical 80’s movie music.

“Paperhouse” is an entertaining and  underrated gem of the 80’s, and although it’s not full blood horror, it has enough unnerving moments to make it ‘light horror’ for people who don’t like really intense scary movies. Although it’s not available as yet on Netflix, it’s totally worth getting online if you have a DVD player that will play it. This is a great film about childhood dreams or fears around the lines of “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “Coraline,” and definitely worth checking out. 

Labyrinth (1986)

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Beware, 80’s kids- I am here to pick apart your childhood classic. There is so much wrong with this movie, I don’t even know where to begin. Mind, there are moments of creative genius at play too, and the puppetry aspect of the film is, well… quite cool, even for a cynic like me. But it’s pretty sad when puppets outshine Jennifer Connelly’s Godawful acting and David Bowie’s mannered affectations as Jareth, the codpiece-donning goblin king (what the Hell people? This is a kid’s movie, is there really room for a villain with his pants stuffed so as to  make his dick look big?)

Sarah (Connelly,) a bratty adolescent deep in the throes of puberty-induced teen angst, calls on the goblin horde from her favorite book to take her perpetually crying baby brother Toby (Toby Froud) away when she is forced to babysit him one stormy night. Much to her chagrin, the goblins, who are- unbeknownst to her- very real- take Toby away to the Goblin King (David Bowie)’s castle. Spurred on by regret and concern for her brother’s well-being (and for the allowance cut she will most certainly receive if her father (Christopher Malcolm) and step-mother (Shelley Thompson,) like, totally come home to find their son gone,) Sarah is taken to a magical land where she much brave the labyrinth- and Jareth’s cunning charms- in order to save her brother.

This seems like mostly a vehicle for musician David Bowie (Bowie sports lip gloss and awful hair, and, for no particular reason at all, bursts into song in several instances,) and I’ve heard rumors that Bowie regrets the project to some extent. I can see why. Allegedly the movie is a fantastical portrayal of the labyrinthine trials of puberty, and the connections are all too obvious. Connelly (who was better off going ass to ass in “Requiem for a Dream,”) can’t act to save her life poor dear.

She hems, haws, and blinks vacuously, but to be fair, the damage isn’t entirely her fault- the scriptwriter gives ‘Sarah’ the most inane lines imaginable. Moreover, unlike fantasy stories like “Harry Potter,” the ‘great evil’ (I.e. Jareth) that Sarah fights doesn’t seem that sinister at all. Weird and gay, yes. Sinister, no. Sure, Jareth wants to turn Sarah’s baby brother into a goblin and the sexual tension between him and Sarah seems Borderline pedo, but he fails as a truly malevolent or interesting presence. When Sarah meets up with him for the big confrontation, he spends half of the time singing (!) and the other half being humbled in the presence of her womanly power.

It’s bad when the most threatening presence in a film that strives to be epic fantasy is a stench-emitting, farting bog. That said, the puppets are wonderful. My personal favorite, Didymous the mace-wielding Chihuahua, was a steady mix of cute and cool. It was just so easy. Pit Sarah against any legit fantasy villain- Voldemort, Sauron, the baddies from Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”- and she would crumble like the inconsequential schoolgirl she is. Jareth’s main powers consist of looking fabulous and talking you to death, with an extra helping of ‘blah.’

“Labyrinth” leaves me conflicted in that I want the movie studios to bring puppetry back and use it on a better movie, My review is unfair in that the film didn’t have a part in my childhood, and fair for the exact same reason. Sentimentality can muddle your perception of the way things are. And “Labyrinth,” my friends, is no classic. You are free to leave comments championing your nondescript piece of whimsy. if you wish. It’s all the same to me. The puppets, the sets, some of the creative elements were awesome, sod all the rest.

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere Cover

For mild-mannered office drone Richard Mayhew, stopping to help an injured stranger has a multitude of consequences- some good, some bad, but all undeniably bizarre. The stranger in question is Door (yes, that’s actually her name,) a waif of many talents who resides in the underground wonderland of London Below, and is on the run from the duo of thugs who killed her family. Door’s special ability is that of ‘opening,’ i.e. the ability to open any door or simply conjure one into being just by concentrating.

Richard has a big heart but is a bit of a pushover and is totally out of his element while scurrying after Door, who feels obliged to protect him, through the cavernous kingdom of the Underside, a realm that exists beneath London. Together they meet a plethora of odd characters- the beautiful and icy Hunter, the smooth-talking Marquis de Carabas, and the predatory but lovely ‘Velvets,’ to name a few. On the run, from sinister antagonists. Richard must find his inner strength if he is to survive.

This is my first book by Neil Gaiman (shame!) and I found it to be a quite captivating work. With a mind-blowing fantasy world full of shady characters and a pair of uproariously weird villains such as Mr. Vandemar and Mr. Croup, how can a novel fail to be supremely entertaining? I liked Richard as a protagonist, but I often found him to be a bit of a burden to the group, such as when he blindly allows himself to be bested by a seductive female creature and falls to pieces when his fear of heights is tested.

“Neverwhere” is witty and fun and has a weird and wonderful mythology behind it. I found the writing to sometimes be alternately repetitive and vague (so that I had trouble picturing the characters and situations) and the author tended to use extremely strange similes that didn’t really work in the context. The last chapter went on too long as well, compared to the fast paced majority of the book.

Apparently the television series “Neverwhere” (1996) came first- Neil Gaiman wrote the book in order to add the extra substance that couldn’t be featured in the series. I’m torn about watching the series- on one hand it’s tempting to see the origins of the book, on the other hand I have read it was an extremely cheap (and some say badly-acted) production, and part of me wants to imagine the story rather than see it played out on screen.

I love how ambiguous and odd the beings who inhabit the Underside are- if they agree to help Richard and his friends it will be entirely for their own reasons, not out of loyalty or nobility or any moral-based traits. With the odd exception, the creatures of London below are not really good, nor very bad for that matter. The just are. They want to be left alone, and they’ll provide help when it’s in their best interest. But do the people of London above, our world, really support Richard and his moral center either?

When you look at mankind’s reaction to discord (Richard’s fickle girlfriend, Jessica, futilely tries to coerce him to leave the bloodied Door in the middle of the sidewalk to get to an important dinner,) the unwashed underground wackos don’t seem so otherworldly after all. “Neverwhere” might in part be a commentary on London’s less privileged classes, but it doesn’t feel like a lecture. It’s unabashedly imaginative, vibrantly alive, and just as wildly original as a modern fantasy novel should be.

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