Fantasy


"Stranger than Fiction" is a Funny & Smart Film

Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is writing her latest novel.  She has a case of writer’s block, and doesn’t know how to kill off her main character, lonely IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell).  Little does she know that Harold Crick is a real person.  He starts hearing a mysterious voice that narrates his life, and one day that voice states that Harold Crick will die.  With the help of Professor Jules Hibert (Dustin Hoffman), Harold tries to find out what story he is in so he can save himself.  Along the way he meets a smart, sassy, and beautiful woman that is being audited (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that he begins to fall for, and develops a friendship with his co-worker Dave (Tony Hale of Arrested Development).  For the first time in his lonely life Harold starts to live his life, all the while with the narrator and the knowledge of his impending death looming over him.

Will Ferrell as Harold Crick

Harold writes down tick marks into columns of what his story is “tragedy” or “comedy.”  We are left to wonder this ourselves.  With drama and laughter, we find a moving film that is quirky and fun, while deep and meaningful all the same.

The life of Harold Crick is not only narrated.  Graphics pop-up to accentuate how he lives his life measured out precisely.  But it is just when his life gains chaos that it starts to really make sense.  This is an intelligent film that speaks to the audience, not above the audience.  It is a sweet and touching and soulful film, with humor and brilliant awkwardness that reminds us “you’re never too old for space camp.”

This film was directed by Marc Forster.

More information:  Official website

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Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Librarians agree:  Alice in Wonderland in 3-D is well worth the money and the entire country has Alice on the brain.  On opening week I organized a group of librarians and library students to attend a screening of Tim Burton’s latest film in the relatively new Real-D.  While I am certain this film will be amazing either way, it is truly a masterpiece in 3-D.  Without giving in to creating shots blatantly for the use of 3-D, it still manages to take full advantage of this feature.

This is clearly Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland.  For one Alice is older, and the film takes a much darker tone than the classic Disney animation (is anyone really surprised that this film might be too much for young children) and there are many twists and surprises along the way.  That said, it does not lose the sense of Wonderland for older fans of early imaginings of Lewis Carroll’s work.  I am certain that fans of Tin Man will be delighted to see this incarnation of Alice in Wonderland.  I know I am.

I was a bit nervous that it would be too Mad-Hatter-centric.  It was not, however.  The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) did play a large role and I understand why Disney would throw their money behind the star.  However, I felt the advertising for the film overshadowed the other amazing performances, none so much as Alice (Mia Wasikowska).  She is perfect as 19 year old Alice, who is expected to accept the marriage proposal of Hamish (Leo Bill), but thankfully gets distracted by a silly white rabbit.  It is not surprising that Tim Burton also cast Helena Bonham Carter in her role as The Red Queen, but it is not just favoritism.  Ms. Carter is amazing as the large headed and violent queen.  Anne Hathaway is no less brilliant as the flighty and hilarious White Queen.  Of course, the best part of the movie are the amazing creatures and world Burton and his team has created:  the White Rabbit, the March Hare, the Red Queen’s frogs, the Caterpillar, and the Cheshire Cat!  My favorite moment being when he is kneading (as cats do).  Lovely!

Fans of this film also might like to check out The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor.  It has a very similar dark take and I am excited to reread the original to compare. In this first in a series of books, we learn that Alice is from Wonderland.  She was heir to the thrown until her aunt, the Red Queen, waged war against her family to cease control of Wonderland.  Alice escapes Red, her army of card soldiers, and an assassin with the help of her friends (including a Mad Hatter that is a skilled fighter himself), but she is cast out from Wonderland lost and alone.  Another related book that is on my to-read list was recommended to me by Laura Rancani.  She recently wrote about the historical fiction Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin, so please visit her website for the full review.

In related news, to celebrate the release of the film, I visited the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where there was an exhibit of rare Lewis Carroll items including original photographs taken by the author (my personal favorite), games owned and/or invented by him, books, and memorabilia.  They also held a tea party for children and had games that Lewis invented that visitors could try out.  I was very bummed out to have had to miss out on tea, but I was late for a very important date!  Still, I managed to quickly snap a few photos for your viewing pleasure.

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PenelopePenelope is a modern fairytale which redefines the genre for a new millennium.  Unlike the traditional princess tale, this modern reimagining features the strong princess, a contemporary setting, and a prince that is not exactly in shining armor.  While fans of Enchanted and Ella Enchanted will likely love this tale, I prefer Penelope for the positive body image storyline, which is a great change for young women.  This is an untraditional fairytale love story about learning to love yourself no matter what your short-comings may be.

Penelope (Christina Ricci) is born into a high-society family.  The world should be at her feet, but she due to a strange curse on her family, she is born with a face like a pig (and no, it can’t be fixed with plastic surgery).  The only thing that can reverse it is for a blue-blood to accept her as one of their own.  Her parents fake her death and keep her hidden away to protect her from tabloid reporters, specifically one named Lemon (Peter Dinklage) that almost got a picture of Penelope as a baby.   Once she is old enough, her mother (Catherine O’Hara) arranges to use a match-making service dealing only with high-society clients.  The suitors all come for the sizable dowry, but run once they see her.

Penelope & MaxEverything changes when she meets Max (James McAvoy); a handsome, charming, and down on his luck gambler.  He is hired to get a picture of the “hideous pig faced girl,” but Max and Penelope fall in love.  Our unlikely couple are a wonderful match, but when the truth is revealed, Max leaves and it devastates our heroine.

Heartbroken, Penelope strikes out on her own for the first time in her life.  Along the way to finding herself, Penelope makes friends including a spunky bike messenger (Reese Witherspoon), and she learns to love herself.  She is able to really live for the first time in her life.

This story is an amazing example of a modern, likable princess that does not fit the traditional mold.  I cannot recommend this film enough.  The breathtaking beauty of the shots and amazing use of color is reason enough, but when combined by the moving, yet hilarious, story of this young woman you have a film that will stand the test of time.

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Tin Man Cast

Oz will never be the same. Tin Man, a SciFi Channel mini-series production, is one of the best interpretations of L. Frank Baum’s magical world that I have ever seen (and that is saying something). It is hard to beat a cast that includes the likes of Zooey Deschanel, Alan Cumming, Neal McDonaugh, Raoul Trujillo, and Richard Dreyfus; but it is Kathleen Robertson that steals the show as the best villain that the O.Z. has ever seen, Azkadellia. Not one of the performances is less than stellar in this epic story. This is not the fluffy, feel good Oz. This is the harsh and cruel world of the O.Z.

DG (Zooey Deschanel) is a waitress “of 20 annuals” that doesn’t feel at home in her small Midwest town where she and her parents live, but it isn’t long before a storm comes. It isn’t just any storm. It brings with it soldiers sent after DG. She is taken away in the storm and wakes up to find herself in a strange and beautiful land (that looks a lot like Endor), and sets out first to find her parents who were also lost in the storm. Later her quest deepens as she tries to find herself and unlock the secrets of her past. While eluding the evil sorceress that controls the O.Z. (or “Outer Zone”), DG bans together with a small band of resistance fighters, and comes to realize she might just be the key to stopping Azkadellia’s reign of terror and torture.

DG and Azkadellia

DG and Azkadellia

Along the way, there are many references and twists on the old Oz. Of course instead of Dorothy Gale we have DG; the hip, charming, and cute as a button rebel fighter with a good heart. You have the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Wizard, and many more; but they are new interpretations. For example, there is reference to the scarecrow in Glitch (Cummings), a man that has had his brain removed by Azkadellia. And instead of a man literally made of tin with no heart, you have a good man that has had his heart hardened by the O.Z. and seeks revenge (McDonough). Where you once had a cowardly lion, you now have a lion/human psychic (Trujillo), whose entire species has been used and tortured by Azkadellia. The Mystic Man (Dreyfus) replaces the Great and Powerful Oz (and so on). Azkadellia, the new wicked witch, commands an army of mobats and storm troopers. The mobats, monkey bats, are reason enough to watch Tin Man. Especially cool is the fact that when they aren’t flying around the mobats are on her body as super-sexy tattoos.

The Collector’s Edition boasts many special features including a must watch behind the scenes called Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, and interviews with the cast and crew of Tin Man. You can go even further and watch a special on the set with the director, but the behind the scenes is the better of the two. Also, there is of course a gag reel if you are into that sort of thing.

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Additionally, the website for Tin Man is worth a look-see (especially if you have a good, fast connection). The official website is at http://www.syfy.com/tinman/ and you can browse the cast, a gallery, a forum, and general about information, but you also can get a tour through the O.Z. (http://www.syfy.com/tinman/oz/).

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**As Neil predicted, the video is no longer available.  However, it was wonderful of Mr. Gaiman to share with us the link to his latest creative endeavor!  I hope it is available from Sky soon.**

Happy New Year!  When my friend, and fellow librarian, Jennifer Lu’Becke sent me this link to Neil Gaiman’s short film Statuesque I knew I had to share it with you fine folks.

Statuesque is the tale of a man that falls in love with a living statue.  It is a beautiful story told completely without words.  I certainly have a soft spot for both Neil Gaiman and for the short movie format.  Here is an excellent example how a story can be told in less than ten minutes, with no dialog, and can be more amazing than most full-length films currently being produced and sold to the public.  Also, I am slightly biased in my affection for this piece since it is similar to a script I wrote years ago that never got around to producing.  Perhaps I will have to tweak it a bit and give it a go in 2010.

Bravo, Neil!  You have done it again!  Cheers to you all and here is to a new decade and plenty more librarian geeky goodness!

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Tim Burton clearly is one of the kings of Halloween. So, for the 3 Days to Halloween blog I have selected a few Tim Burton movies.

Sleepy Hollow

One of my favorite movies is Tim Burton’s retelling The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It is one of the most visually stunning and scariest Halloween films and certainly showcases Burton’s talents. Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is an investigator sent from the city to investigate the mysterious murders that have taken place in the small town of Sleepy Hollow. There he not only finds murder and mystery, but the love of Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci). The special effects and general mood of the film are an absolute must for Halloween. Ichabod’s contraptions are fantastic and the gore in this movie is not over the top, but exactly right (as long as you like blood and guts in your movies). Christopher Walken’s teeth alone are the stuff of nightmares…and that tree! If you have seen the movie, you know I’m right. It is a perfect tale for Halloween and certainly not for the faint of heart.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (2-Disk Collector’s Edition)

Getting this edition of the film is a smart choice. Not only does it feature the movie and a few others (see below), it also has special features of deleted scenes, behind the scenes, and trailers. The movie itself is about Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King. Jack is sad and then he comes across the land of Christmas. He decides that all the ghouls and goblins should be in charge of Christmas this year. Of course they get it all wrong, because they just don’t understand holidays other than Halloween. Music, creepy fun, and even a little bit of romance are all part of this story about a skeleton that has good intentions, but gets it all wrong.

Vincent

Vincent is a short film about a boy who dreams of being Vincent Price. It is one of the many extras on The Nightmare Before Christmas 2-disk collector’s edition DVD. It is a clever little poem and stop motion animation piece that I find a delight to watch again and again. Also in the extra features, the original poem is read by Christopher Lee. If you like Vincent, you should also check out illustrator Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies, as I feel you would also get a kick out of his twisted alphabet.

Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie

This short film is also featured on this edition of The Nightmare Before Christmas and will eventually be done as a feature length film. The story is about a young boy who brings back a beloved pet, but of course the creation is misunderstood by the neighbors. I was a bit unsure about the story when I was younger, but I gave it a go again once I was older and watched the whole thing and found it to be excellent as long as you watch the entire movie.

Tomorrow: 2 Days to Halloween, Halloween Black and White Classics


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Pushing Daisies: Ned and Chuck

Pushing Daisies: Ned and Chuck

A bitter-sweet moment came in the mail for many “Pushing Daisies” fans as their pre-ordered copies of the second, and final, season of the Emmy award winning television series arrived this past week.  I certainly hope that a movie comes along, since there is much more to be said in the world of “Daisies.”  There may be graphic novels in the fall, but as much as I would treasure those, it is not the right format for this truly cinematic show.  The fast and literary dialog has a special quality when performed by the cast and the look of the show can’t be captured in another medium.

The world of “Daisies” is a fantasy about a pie-maker, but it is more that that.  It is a contemporary fairytale that, not surprisingly, reminds one of films such as the French film “Amelie,” that use vivid and highly saturated colors and creative camera and editing techniques.  The shot construction often mirrors classic Hollywood (including many references to Alfred Hitchcock and even “The Sound of Music”).  It is a fantastic hard-boiled murder mystery combined with the film “Big Fish” on the small screen…and then some.  The sets and props are brilliant examples of pure imagination explosion.  When Brian Fuller (creator and executive producer) and his crew put something together they go all out.

Pushing Daisies cast in The Pie Hole

Pushing Daisies cast in The Pie Hole

The facts are these…
“Pushing Daisies” is the story of a pie-maker named Ned (Lee Pace) who owns a pie shop (The Piehole).  Ned can wake the dead with his touch, but only for a minute.  If he doesn’t touch the dead thing (or person) again in that minute another must die in its place.  He may never touch a once dead thing a second time or they will die for good.  Ned has teamed up with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), “a man named for a poet and a fish,” (ep. 6, s. 2) to solve the murders of the dead by waking them up and asking who killed them.  Then everything changes when lonely tourist Charlotte Charles (Anna Friel) is the victim.  Charlotte (or “Chuck”) is Ned’s childhood sweetheart so he hasn’t the heart to redead her.  But the lovebirds can’t touch or she will die, this time forever.  Toss into the mix Olive Snook (Kristen Chenoweth), a feisty waitress at The Piehole and you have a bizarre love triangle.  In addition to these colorful characters add Chuck’s aunts Lily Charles (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian Charles (Ellen Greene), the former synchronized sister swimming act, The Darling Mermaid Darlings.  And let us not forget Digby, the once dead dog, and later the pig — aptly named Pigby.

Pushing Daisies: from episode "Dummy" about Dandelion Car Company

Pushing Daisies: from the episode Dummy about the Dandelion Car Company

Every episode features bizarre and hilarious deaths and scenarios.  Season one features such gems as windmills and a bird with a Bedazzled wing (ep. 4), a scratch and sniff book that kills (ep. 7), and (possibly my favorite) the Dandelion Car Company (ep. 2).  Season two offers up more fun with a friend-renting service (episode introduces David Arquette as a taxidermist and love interest, ep. 4), widows making death dioramas (with glitter, ep. 9), and a deep fried murder of chef Colonel Likkin (ep. 8).

Also, the series has a great soundtrack.  Olive (Kristen Chenoweth) breaks into song a few times in the series, adding another special layer of surrealism to the show (Ellen Greene who plays aunt Vivian also gets in on the fun a couple times).  Sadly the soundtrack, which came out prior to season two, does not include Chenoweth’s ballad from Comfort Food which is hilarious (ep. 8, s. 2).  However, it does include the three songs sung in season one and the fantastic score composed by James Dooley.

Episodes are narrated by Jim Dale (a voice recognizable to fans of “Harry Potter”) which gives an extra special touch, like a story being read aloud.  Episodes flashback to the characters’ childhoods.  Ned is a lonely boy left at boarding school.  Chuck keeps bees as a hobby.  Emerson Cod is, as always, a modern day Marlow (the kid cast for Emerson is especially spot on). Olive is kidnapped as a child. And Lily and Vivian become the Darling Mermaid Darlings, forever strengthening their sisterly bond.

While the season finale wraps up the story as well as it could, it also says that it is not the end, but rather a beginning.  As a huge fan of “Daisies” I sure hope that is true.  I know that there is a lot more story to tell.  However, as much as I look forward to the rumored comics, this story is meant to be told on screen.

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