Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday at the Movies: ABC Family's "Princess"

It's time for Monday at the Movies! As promised, here's my review of ABC Family's Princess.

I apologize for how many times this post had to be edited--I had some html issues! Anyway, Princess is a 2008 ABC Family original film for TV. It is not very well-known, save for those who saw it when it aired or happened upon the dvd while online or elsewhere. My introduction to this film came from a friend who let me borrow it. My only other recollection of it is from people online talking about how it was a "cheap ripoff of Enchanted." So I set out myself to watch the movie and see how horrible it really was.

Big surprise: This movie is nothing like Enchanted. And nothing about it came off as cheap or bad.


The main character is a fairytale-esque princess who talks to animals and falls in love with a regular Joe--that is the only remote similarity to Enchanted in the entirety of the film. The alterations its story makes to the standard "princess" mythology far remove it from Disney stereotypes filled with beautiful maids dreaming of true love. In fact, in Princess's mythology, the heroine doesn't even believe in true love. Care to know more? Here are some spoilers, fair warning:

Princess is the story of a washed up novelist named William who can't seem to get a break. While freeloading off his internet-made-rich college buddy, he winds up being invited to a charity dinner ball hosted by the elusive Princess Ithaca. Ithaca is a local mystery--a beautiful but rarely seen woman who dresses like a princess from a fairytale and only appears outside her castle-like home once a year to hold a ball that raises funds for endangered species. Intrigued, William agrees to attend. When he sees Ithaca for the first time, it's as if he is led toward her by a spell. When Ithaca auctions off a chance to have a dinner date inside her castle, William makes the spur of the moment decision to bet his life savings. He wins the date and a dance with Ithaca, but Ithaca suspects he is more than he seems. She believes William is her Searcher--the mystic man who can find the next princess and bring her to the castle to learn her magic gift.
You see, legendary creatures like nymphs, mermaids, unicorns, beasts and pixies exist. Their species are in danger of dying out completely because they are feared and misunderstood. Only one magical being has the power to help these creatures--the Princess. She is the only human blessed with the power to communicate with them. She lives a life of chaste solitude, dedicated to her mighty task and cared for by an old female caretaker. She doesn't have time for marriage or princes because an entire world depends on her. No men are allowed inside her world--except for the Searcher. Ithaca brings William into her life as a Searcher who will find the next princess before her 25th birthday when her powers expire. William, having fallen in love with Ithaca, plays along but soon realizes the gravity of the situation. Together they must find a street kid named Calliope and bring her to the castle within a week or the fate of every fairytale creature is doomed and the balance of our own fragile world will be destroyed.

"Is it true?"
"Is what true?"
"Do you have a room covered in diamonds, and hundreds of dresses, and millions of dollars and magic wands?"
"I..I'm afraid I don't have any of those things."

The storyline is the first hint that this movie is nothing like Enchanted. First of all, the plot is overwhelmingly dark and serious. Don't get me wrong, it has its moments of laughter and romance (which are great), but overall it's driven by a sense of urgency which gives it an almost thriller quality. Second of all, its highly original twist on the standard princess mythology helps it stand out from all the other live-action princess stories. Here are the unique characteristics of Princess's princesses:
1. Princesses are orphans: The princess has no family (or stepfamily) and lives as an orphan until she is discovered by a Searcher. Her only family is her "mother," that is, the retired Princess who came before her that guides her in using her gift, and the old crone who is her mentor. Very different from your patriarchal fairytale tradition with its missing mothers and evil stepmothers.

Ithaca crowns the new princess, her symbolic daughter Calliope, as her guardian Nana watches on.

2. Princesses understand the outside world,but are not part of it: In Enchanted, Giselle is the perfect social creature--despite being totally lost, she makes friends easily and everyone seems to fall under her spell. Ithaca has no such luck--she is socially awkward and while she is extremely intelligent in the ways of the world, she is not socially adept because she is always needed at the castle to care for the creatures. When she ventures into the real world, she actually disappoints a little girl when she fails to live up to Disney expectations.
3. Princesses understand advanced medical procedures: Birthing pixie babies, cooking specialized meals for recovering mermaids and unicorns, and using a vast knowledge of psychology and veterinary surgeon skills are all daily job requirements for Ithaca. A princess in this movie needs a freaking PhD--good thing she's surrounded by centuries old nymphs to teach her their healing powers.
4. Princesses aren't princesses forever: A princess keeps her position until age 25 when the next princess must be found and brought to the castle to awaken her powers. The previous princess then becomes that princess' mentor and guide, her "mother" as Ithaca puts it. It is a never-ending cycle of women, not the linear destiny of one.
And most shocking of all...
5. Princesses don't experience love: At least they're not supposed to--Ithaca and William help break this when they find each other, but before the princess was kept shut out from the dangerous world of man. Men are not to be trusted because of their cruel, dishonest ways. The princess lives in a matriarchal wonderland where she is accountable only to her older, female teachers. She has her every need met (well, except for romance) and isn't cultured to even want a prince (she certainly doesn't need one). Ithaca is almost a love atheist, asking William how he can believe in true love when he's never seen it happen. It is this aspect of Princess which leads me to doubt it even glanced at Enchanted. Giselle's whole world revolves around finding Prince Charming, Ithaca's around finding her female successor.

So now that you know more about the story, here are the breakdown as to why I think any fantasy film lover would love this movie:

Writing 4/5: This movie was very original and a welcome twist to the standard fairytale. There could have been more action and less suspense in some scenes, but it carried well regardless. I had a biff with a few loose ends (particularly about the nature of the Searcher and how involved he is in the Princess's world), but not enough to make me disappointed.

Visuals 5/5: ABC family pulled out all the stops with this one. Fallen was another ABC series that got similar attention to fx. The overall aesthetic quality is stunning--reminiscent of a Pre-Raphaelite painting in some scenes. It reminded me a great deal of The Tenth Kingdom's special effects and art design. Ithaca's dream prophecies are especially well executed.

An example of a garden scene. Also, baby deer so cute omg.

Costumes 5/5: The costume designer for this movie did a phenomenal job with Ithaca's many fabulous outfits, as well as the other character's wardrobes. Calliope and the other street kids looked like..well, a bunch of ragged and dirty homeless kids. It was very realistic--it never felt like a cartoon or out of place.

One of Ithaca's more casual dresses, with a Neo-Medieval aesthetic.

Music/Score 3/5: The movie was very good about having music where music was necessary. When songs were played, they didn't distract from the action. The score was rich and very fairytale feeling without being cheesy or over the top, but it wasn't one I'd buy the CD for.

Acting 4/5: I will hand it to ABC family--they know a good actor when they see one. The only character I felt was forced at times was William's college buddy who--granted--is supposed to be an annoying prick in the story. Nora and Kip had great chemistry, and she played a wonderfully multi-dimensional princess.

Total Score: 21 out of 25

Final Comments:
If you have the chance to rent, buy, or borrow this film, do. ABC Family really shined with this one and I had a delightful time watching it. I loved it so much I made new lj icons from it. Princess really does take the fairytale standard and mix it up. I especially enjoyed how the princess gains her power from another princess, something I rarely see. William was a delightful reluctant hero and totally proves that a self-proclaimed "frog" can be the best kind of prince in the end. It's refreshing to see the "prince" place himself in the princess's world versus the princess conforming to his. The underlying theme of love bringing two worlds together was beautifully realized as well. As for those who still claim this movie rips off Enchanted (which I still love,btw)....well, sticks and stones.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Clean Hoooouuuuse

Today was my apartment complex's big yard sale. I managed to make some money toward my GRE fee and sell off my old dorm stuff and unfitting clothes. The rain waited for us, thankfully, to finish before pouring!
After the yard sale was done, I donated all the items that didn't sell to charity. I enjoyed the whole process (I'm sore from carrying all the furniture and heavy items), and I think sometimes you have to part with one stage of your life and move into another. Selling/donating/repurposing items from one's past is an almost ritual way of enacting changes in your life on a material level. I know people who have serious hoarding problems caused by inabilities to progress from that past stage of their life to the next--literally, carrying "baggage" from their past. I feel rejuvenated after ridding myself of the vestiges of past. Cocoon to butterfly, here I go.

BTW-Last week I grievously omitted Monday at the Movies during my hectic yard sale/grad app prep! This Monday I'll be posting an illustrated review of the ABC Family original movie, Princess starring Nora Zehetner. I really love this movie's princess mythology--it's focused a lot on women's POVs and is pretty empowering even (not your common fairytale). I can't wait to share, see you Monday!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Fall Equinox/Harvest Home/Feast of Ingathering, and Autumn at last!

It's the beginning of Autumn! This is the day I celebrate an old holiday of thanksgiving for the fall harvest called Harvest Home. It's an English/Scottish Medieval Christian tradition of celebrating the fall harvest with feasting and merriment. Of course, the practice of celebrating the Equinox and first harvest goes back much earlier with the Pagan sabbat of Mabon and the Jewish Sukkot or Feast of Ingathering (I reckon the Medieval celebration roots itself in the biblical tradition but follows more like the Pagan in practice, like A LOT of Christian holidays, lol). Some Christian denominations call it the Feast of Tabernacles, I think.

Marmie and I made chicken, squash, baked apples, tomatoes, bread and pound cake. We had salad with homemade vinaigrette dressing and cranberry juice, and our neighbor even brought some cream corn over. It was really wonderful--Marmie got to use her new bread bowl and I was so happy to be eating totally local-grown meat and produce and making bread from scratch. It was a total feast and I'm totally stuffed--we made plenty to share with neighbors as well. Too bad there's no big sales today for me to walk it off in while I shop! XD

So, do any of you have a Harvest tradition in your family/community? Big Thanksgiving get-togethers in November, traditional Jewish festivities, observances for Mabon/Alban Elfred? Now that Fall is upon us, I'd love to know what everyone's doing this season! Happy Fall, everyone.

(And I know my sisters at Salem College rocked Fall Fest again tonight. It's Fall Fest y'all).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Update, Thurs 9/16

Sorry for the lack of posts as of late, I've been planning a big yard sale and working on grad school stuff. To make up for the lag, I give you cuteness:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Monday at the Movies: "Fantasia" (1940)

So, I'm starting a new weekly blog topic on Smoldering Rose called "Monday at the Movies," where I watch and discuss a film that fits the romantic/fantasy/fairytale aesthetic. Today's film is Disney's classic Fantasia.

Fantasia is one of those you-either-love-it-or-you-hate-it Disney movies. The premise: give the feeling of a live classical music performance, complete with an onscreen orchestra and emcee. Only, instead of just our watching the musicians, Disney creates a series of animated vignettes to go with each musical number. As a fan of classical music, this is totally awesome to me. It reminds me of when Disney did musical short cartoons, only this is on such an enormous level. There have been sequels like Fantasia 2000, but to me, nothing can replace the artistry of the original.


Here are five reasons I love this movie, and why you might too:
1. This movie is not just for kids: unlike many animated films, Fantasia is really better experienced by mature audiences who appreciate music and art on the level the animators and orchestra do. It is a celebration of the imagination of classical music visualized through the imagination of Disney animators. Not that you won't enjoy it if you have no interest in classical music, but this movie is definitely a gem for classical music fans--I mean, they got Leopold Stokowski to conduct for goodness sake! It was meant to be an art event, not just another Disney film.

2. Flower Fairies and Gold Fish in the Nutcracker Suite: Disney puts Tchaikovsky's famous ballet suite to a series of vignettes featuring a dancing goldfish, faeries bringing the frost, and dancing flowers and mushrooms. Very creative and otherworldy, which is how the music has also sounded to me( the Nutcracker is also my favorite ballet, so I guess I'm a bit partial to this piece):

3. The Pastoral Symphony: Also known as Beethoven's 6th, instead of a day in the countryside, Disney takes us through a day in the midsts of the mythical Olympians. With centaur couples, cherubs, and a baby pegasus' learning to fly, this is one of the most memorable fantasy sequences in Disney history:

4. The Dance of the Hours, with Hippos and Alligators: From the famous ballet in Ponchielli's opera La Gioconda, this ballet is the same setting as usual--Alvise's palace. It is an allegory of the times of day, with dancers representing dawn, midday, dusk, and evening. The difference in Disney's version is that the dancers are now ostriches, hippos, and alligators. And it's absolutely delightful:

5. Night on Bald Mountain into Ave Maria: This is my absolute favorite sequence--I love juxtapositions, and no two musical pieces have themes and tones more in opposition than Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain (where the subject is the debauchery of Satan's followers on a fiery mountaintop) and Schubert's Ave Maria (where the subject is the Virgin Mary and the birth of Christ). In a provocative contrast, the sequence begins with monstrous figures heading toward a dark and looming Devil and ends with the coming of daylight where pilgrims with candles head through a beautiful forest over a cathedral-like bridge. Spiritual, invigorating, and brilliantly animated, this sequence is the reason I'm still amazed by this movie:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pre-Raphaelites and Mermaids or Why My Head is Red

Amy Adams, star of Enchanted and Julie and Julia, is another natural blonde whose switched to red and is now one of the most sought-ever actresses in Hollywood. Of course her talent got her there, but how refreshing to see a starlet in Tinsel Town who isn't tube-o-bleach blonde!

I have fair skin and green eyes and my family is of Scottish-Irish descent, so most people who see me assume I'm a--although perhaps a bit enhanced--natural born red head. Another term is "ginger" but in some places that is used an insult, so I prefer to say redhead. Looking at the pictures of women in my family (including some painted portraits), it appears we have a great deal of redheads including my namesake Great-Grandmother Josephine (I'm also middle-named for the Little Women character, and we have a lot of Megs, Beths, and Jos in my family: Alcott is popular with us). I have a strong, fiery personality and love to wear green (the complement to red). It seems perfectly natural for me to have red hair.

Except I don't.

Ready? I have naturally ash blonde hair. Not happy golden sunshine blonde--GREY. My mother had it, my aunt and grandmother too. It's the other hair color that runs in my family, from our Scandinavian ancestry. I wanted the red hair gene from the Celtic side and the height from the Scandinavian, but NO--biology got screwed up somewhere along the line and mistakenly produced a short, grey-haired child. So you know what? I fixed it. I wear shoes with lift in them and keep my hair a bright, fiery red! Sometimes you just have to say screw you right back to your mitochondria. After all, we're more than just our genetic make-up: we have the power to create our own identity. And I for one know I'm supposed to be a redhead! Here are five reasons I keep rocking the red tendrils:


1. Pre-Raphaelite Goddesses like those in the works of Waterhouse, Gabriel Rossetti, and Millais. These artists loved red-haired women and painted gorgeous romantic art featuring their bewitching locks on such characters as the Belle Dame Sans Merci and Pia de' Tolomei--even Miranda from the Tempest and the Virgin Mary sport red hair! The models of these works were talented, dynamic women all on their own like Elizabeth Siddal seen here on the left as Beatrice, Dante's muse (my online name comes from her). Millais' Ophelia is on the right:

Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ophelia by John Everett Millais
2. Opera Divas hit high notes with a head of red. Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi and Hildegard Behrens all were famously redheaded at one point or another (Sills kept it going her whole career). Behrens and fellow Wagnerian diva Gwyneth Jones made absolutely breathtaking red-haired valkyries in Der Ring:

Some of the most amazing voices this world has ever heard. Oh, and RIP Bubbles and Behrens. Thanks for seducing me into opera after opera!

3. Christina Hendricks. Who is bringing not only sexy back on Mad Men as Joan Holloway (in the form of gorgeous full-figured curves and amazing acting), but is also a spicy red-haired vixen! As they say, it's not that she's a Marilyn, it's more that Marilyn is a sort-of her:

God, I'm so happy I can find a celebrity whose appearance I can realistically emulate.

4. Queen Elizabeth I=red head. I mean, talk about setting a fashion statement--women dyed their hair red during her reign. She was definitely an enigmatic historical figure. And her hair? 100% naturally red:

She's the queen, dude. Don't **** with her.

And finally, the biggest reason:

5. MERMAIDS. That's pretty much it. Cool mermaids with incredibly fabulous red hair:

Is it just me, or do mermaids spend a lot of time playing with their hair while sitting on rocks?

That's why I keep my hair fiery red! So how about you--do you proudly sport your natural hair or do you play with lots of colors? What do you do to your hair color?

At the Alice 3D Premiere: Alice may be a blonde, but the Red Queen and Mad Hatter are certainly a pair of redheads who know how to have more fun! Maybe I'm attracted to red because I'm kinda mad as well?