Henson Appreciation Post #2 – The Storyteller

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller has to be one of the buried treasures of television. I’m so sad to see that the DVD is out of print and Netflix no longer has it available to stream. The series aired in 1988 and only had one season, oh but what a glorious season it was.

The gist of the show is that back in olden times, everyone would crowd around the town’s storyteller and he would tell them about their past, their history, their whole culture by giving them the shared stories. Each story is based on a lesser known European (mostly German and Russian) fairy tale. John Hurt played The Storyteller, and the episodes had both actors and puppets. Brian Henson was the voice of the dog, who sat by the Storyteller’s chair and asked him questions about the stories and characters, helping the audience understand situations and being the voice of the children when things got too scary.

I adore this show because it exposed me to fairy tales and myths I would never have encountered otherwise. These are not Disney-fied princess stories. They have some tense and frightening moments. But it’s always fascinating to see the common threads that connect us through each of these stories and also how cultures approached life, death, love, hate, romance etc. through their stories. It was smart television, something that could be enjoyed by the entire family. The puppets were well done and the stories had a sense of humor and wonder.

My all time favorite episode is The Soldier and Death. I found a little clip on YouTube posted by the Jim Henson Company. This is just short scene where the Soldier tries to help out the village by ridding their local castle of devils. Because the devils have one weakness – the are gamblers!

And, yes, that is Robert Peck from Jurassic Park as The Soldier. You’ll find quite a collection of actors – Sean Bean, the chick for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – oh and the series was scripted by Anthony Mingella who went on to write The English Patient.

While the series is no longer available on DVD, it does appear that iTunes has it for purchase, along with it’s even shorter-lived spin off Greek Myths. If you can find a copy somewhere, I recommend watching a few.

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Muppet Appreciation Post #1 — Muppet Show Musical Moments

We’re going to see Muppets Most Wanted tomorrow and I am far more excited than someone my age should be. I love the Muppets. ADORE them.

For many people, when you say Muppets, they think of Sesame Street, and rightly so – that show has been on the air for 45 years. But the Muppets I adore are from The Muppet Show. And even though they have been toned down a bit since becoming a Disney property I still love them to bits.

The Muppet Show was just ending it’s initial TV run when I was born but I some how managed to catch a lot of the shows as reruns. Some tv station in Virginia must have run them every morning and I (or more likely my Mom) set up the VCR and taped them every day, on SLP, so I had a huge collection of Muppet Shows that I watched over and over and over. It gave me an appreciation for all different kinds of music (guest stars ranged from Opera Singer Beverly Sills to 70s pop singer Leo Sayer to brilliant comedienne Gilda Radner), a twisted sense of humor (torturing Beaker is so wrong yet so right) and how a show can work on so many different levels. The Muppet Show was truly a family show, with something that everyone could appreciate.

I know Jim Henson and Company, and in particular The Muppets, shaped the way I view the world. Over the next week or so I’m going to do little appreciation posts to highlight The Muppets, Jim Henson, and the Henson Company because they can never have enough.

This is one of my favorite songs of ALL TIME and this is the only way I have ever heard it. It’s so melancholy yet beautiful. Even as a child, I felt something with this song, even though the emotions that Paul Williams sings about were not even known to me yet. But did that stop them from running it on The Muppet Show? No, it was a variety show for all ages. I have so many feelings when I listen to this song now. Beautiful.

LOL oh Danny Kaye and Miss Piggy, singing together after their big fight. Kaye makes the mistake of saying that he had met Miss Piggy before, back when she was thin. LOL, yeah. It was numbers like this that introduced me to classic popular music and also taught me that oh so wicked humor I love. Good thing Miss Piggy is made of felt or those karate chops would really leave a mark!

One more for tonight, 70s pop star Leo Sayer, up in a tree, singing a sweet love song. There is really no reason for me to know who Leo Sayer is, his career was done before I was born. But he was a guest star on The Muppet Show so I saw him over and over when I rewatched my tapes. This is another song that I’ve always liked. Another bittersweet melody.

I could go on but I think that’s enough from me for tonight — but what about you? What are some of your favorite Muppet Music Moments?

Trailer thoughts: The Giver

Remember how I was talking about Ender’s Game last week and how it tried to stay true to the book but in the end could not reach that level because of the limitations of a movie versus a novel?

Yeah, well clearly The Giver is not going to have that “staying true to the book” problem. I’ve read this book, that trailer is NOT for the book I read.

Wow, this really looks like a studio exec went into a box, found the rights to the book and said “Hey, make this into Hunger Games for me” to some random intern.

Stephanie pointed out that Jonas is 12 in the book. TWELVE. Looks like they have aged him up a bit JUST so they can give him a bit of romance drama. Also, that last scene of the trailer is VERY SPOILERY WTF!!!!!!!

I don’t think the power of Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep can save this one.

movie thoughts: Veronica Mars (2014)

Here we go! #veronicamars #veronicamarsmovie

So, as I think all of you know, I backed the Veronica Mars movie on Kickstarter. I had watched the show religiously when it initially aired and I was excited by the prospect of seeing Kristen Bell on the big screen in a role that would take advantage of all of her talents.

Leading up to the movie’s release, I decided to rewatch the series since I hadn’t seen it since it was on TV, even though I had purchased the DVDs almost 7 years ago. If you read those posts, you know that the show did not fair as well during the second viewing. Or, at least, I realized things about the show that I didn’t notice the first time through. Mostly that it doesn’t have the character development that I made me love shows like Buffy, Firefly, or Gilmore Girls. Watching season 1 – 3 over the course of 2 months made it very clear – Veronica Mars is not about characters growing or changing, it’s about solving mysteries. At it’s core, it is a noir detective series that just happens to take place in a high school instead of a black and white city.

With these confusing feelings in my heart, we started up the movie right after watching the final four episodes of Season 3. Here are my thoughts:

***SPOILERS BELOW*****

The Good

  • The gang was all there! It was so great to see all of our main characters back, but especially Kristen and Enrico because I still think they have one of the best father/daughter dynamics in a tv show ever.
  • Even better was seeing all the side characters, like the semi-stoner guy or the Principal. Nice that they were able to track them down. And Cliff. I adore Cliff.
  • SCHMIDT! LEO! That scene was great, especially when he asked her about the FBI LOLOL!
  • It felt like a long episode of the TV show and that was perfectly fine. The mystery was relatively solid, with enough little twists to keep you guessing.
  • Banter! Pop culture references!
  • Silly voices! Secret identities! Accessories!

All in all, I was happy with the majority of the broader strokes of the film. But then little things started to bug me…

The Bad

  • They should not have made Piz and Veronica a couple if they were just going to break them up. Were they supposedly together for 9 years? If that is true, then that break-up was shitty on her part. Thomas should have just made them friends, maybe had a quick sentence about why it didn’t work out and moved on. Wallace and Mac could have still flown him out, there could still be sexual tension but at least Veronica wouldn’t look like a horrible person.
  • Weevil’s ending sucked. Why would he throw away his happy life with his wife and child and suddenly become a biker gang leader again? Just, no. How about he could be the example of people that can escape Neptune’s grasp and that it is possible?
  • Sorta disappointed we heard nothing about what happened with the Sheriff election that ended Season 3.
  • I wish Veronica’s career story had not been so integral because it sorta made me sick her throwing away everything. And the idea that she didn’t go to the FBI academy AND spent a ton of money on law school only to throw it all away to go back to Neptune made me sad…

See, here is where I can’t figure out if the problem is the movie or the problem is between me and the genre. I don’t really do a lot of noir detective stories. Heck, I don’t even watch a lot of detective shows period. Talking with about what defines that genre, I would say that Veronica Mars fits the bill – the idea of no escape, being trapped, a guess a kind of fatalism? Defeatism? I have grown to prefer character that fight back and watching Veronica throw away a life she had for NINE YEARS and decide to go back to being a P.I. in Neptune just made me too sad. But that is noir. It’s dark and you’re trapped and you do what you gotta do to stay alive.

Couldn’t she have gone with Logan to wherever he was stationed and solved crimes there? See the world, Veronica! It ends with her smirking but all I could envision was Keith feeling so sad that he had let his daughter down, that she was trapped again.

So while it was probably the only ending that worked for Veronica Mars, it was not the ending I wanted for Veronica Mars, if that makes sense.

All in all, a 3 star movie for me. I’ve only watched it once and I’m not sure if I want to watch it again right away. I almost think I need more space between me and the film to try to get the woulda-coulda-shoulda plot lines out of my head and go back to it with an open mind. The whole show was not what I remembered, confusing the aging of characters for development. It’s a detective show, through and through, and this movie is a good detective story. It’s just too bad the characters had to take such abuse.

Ender’s Game and the problem with adapting “classics” to film

Ender's Game Theatrical PosterLast week, we rented the big screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s science fiction classic, Ender’s Game. I think it is safe to say that this movie was doomed from the start, and part of that had nothing to do with the script or the actors but the legacy of the story.

Published in 1985, I have a feeling that many young adults fans of the genre were happily reading anything science fiction that was published. And many of those young adults became authors and screenwriters whose work was influenced, directly or indirectly, by the story of Andrew Ender Wiggin and his life in the military academy.

But now? In 2014, the dystopian novel with a teen protagonist is all the rage. Hunger Games, Divergent, Roar — many of the top books for teens are about young adults fighting the wars of their parents. Of the blurred lines between right and wrong when it comes to war. And I’m sure we can sit and point at dozens of science fiction movies that have come out since that take the same premise, of raising the super soldier to protect us, of sacrificing childhood innocence to keep the world safe. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…it’s all been done to death.

And here comes Hollywood, so excited that it can capitalize on the popularity of such franchises as The Hunger Games by making a film of a book that many consider the start of it all. But because so much time has passed, the power of the story loses a lot of it’s weight. As usual, the movie becomes obsessed with having the special effects work more than giving us characters we can get behind.

This is my theory as to why Science Fiction films are so looked down upon by the general populace. Fans of Science Fiction novels read the stories and love them for their social and political commentary. They try to spread the word and people scoff at “Sci-Fi” as pulp stories that should be recycled as soon as they are read. Then Hollywood says they will make a movie and (for some strange reason) the Science Fiction fans are excited because finally their love will be our love. But, no, Hollywood must butcher your story, chop it down to 2 hours, and just keep the bits that have explosions. And so the general populace walks out of the movie theater, unaware that there is more to the book, unaware that the movie they just viewed is based on a 30 year old novel that has inspired most of their other popcorn movies since then — all they see is a 2 hour explosion fest with little character development and a plot they have already seen before.

This is true of adapting any classic to the big screen, but I think because Science Fiction and Fantasy are already picked on for being “nerdy” it makes it harder for general viewers to forgive bad film version. Everyone knows (or has been told by their teachers time and again) that Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare wrote classics, so if the movie stinks, its just the movie, not the book. I think the only high fantasy movie series that managed to survive was Lord of the Rings (but then Jackson turned around and gave us the epic mess that is the unnecessary Hobbit trilogy).

I could blog about this for hours, giving examples of other movies that have fallen short but let’s turn it over to you — What do you think? Should Hollywood bother adapting “classics” to the big screen? Are they doomed from the start?

Marshmallow Alert – Veronica Mars Pilot FREE on iTunes + Season Sale!

I own the DVDs but I always like having iTunes episodes of shows to add to my iPhone or iPad to rewatch while on trips. Right now the Veronica Mars extended pilot is FREE on iTunes!

And, bonus, all three seasons are on sale for $20 each, if you need to stock up.