Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Giver: For a Movie About Feelings, It Left Me Cold

Let's start out with the all-important confession: No, I have not read The Giver. In all honesty, I probably would have, had I ever even known what it was about, but I didn't. I find it a bit baffling, too, because this book seems to be right up my alley. Dystopian fiction about the overthrow of a totalitarian society focusing on the plight of the youth? Kind of my jam.

But no, I never read it, and when I heard the movie was coming out, I actually made a conscious choice not to grab a copy of the book. Why? Because it's a rare experience for me to be on the other side of the book versus movie debate, and it's even rarer that I have to take the movie on its own merits. Since I haven't ever read the book, I have nothing that I can compare the movie to, and therefore I only know what the movie tells me.

So, based on that understanding alone, I will say that the movie is pretty successful. I didn't really lose track of any of it, nor did I feel bogged down in the exposition. It was a fun and relatively interesting movie, and I was fairly emotionally invested in how it was all going to turn out. So, you know, good job. Right on. Pat yourselves on the back, you made a movie that is officially accessible to non-book fans. Hurrah!

The problem I have with this movie, though, is kind of really nitpicky, but it matters to me. Simply put, this movie is nice. It's fine. It's okay. But it's not spectacular in any real way. It doesn't make you gasp and shiver and scream. Ordinarily, I think that might be fine, but given the point of the story here, that feels like a very real problem.

Let me back up, for those of you who have neither read the book nor seen the movie. The Giver is set in a dystopian world very similar to our own, but dystopian and stuff. Basically, in a plot eerily similar but less cyberpunk than Equilibrium, this world has seriously limited human emotion. In an effort to get rid of strife and sadness, the community has found a way to rid humans of feelings and choice and all that stuff that makes life actually worth living. 

You're assigned a family. You're assigned a job. You're assigned a time to die. Everything is set and regulated. Heck, they don't even make babies the old-fashioned way. They use artificial insemination. (Sort of like Brave New World, as it happens.) Even the colors of the world are gone - in a very literal sense. The whole world is in shades of gray, because everyone is colorblind. Race and religion and dreams are gone, and everyone is equal because everyone is equally bereft.

In this world of conformity and control there's one kid who doesn't fit in. Shockingly, he's a white, middle-class guy, who just feels like there must be something more, man. Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is a sweet kid who feels unprepared for his future. All his friends - Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush) - are completely confident in the community elders and their ability to choose a good future for everyone. But Jonas isn't sure. He doesn't doubt, exactly, he just is sort of uncertain about where he could possibly fit.

Turns out that this uncertainty is right on the money. During the graduation ceremony, Fiona is named to work as a "nurturer" and Asher as a drone pilot, but Jonas isn't told to do anything until the very end. And his job? It's a bit more unusual. He's been selected to be the "receiver of memories." And no one really knows what that means. They just know that the previous Receiver (Jeff Bridges) is kind of weird and crazy, and that this is a very big deal.

Jonas finds out quickly what it all means, though. See, the receiver of memories literally means the person who has to carry the entire collective consciousness of humanity up until this point. Because memories are dangerous and could give people ideas (perish the thought), only one person is designated as safe enough to hold them all, and this person is exiled from the community and carefully watched. They're only allowed to speak up about this when the council of elders needs help with a decision and can use the wisdom of the past.

Sounds like a fun job, huh?

The actual process involves the old receiver psychically transferring memories over to the new receiver, piece by piece. And the results are startling, at least for Jonas. He starts to see colors again. More feelings. He stops taking his daily injections. He gets memories of riding a sled and dancing and war and fear and human courage. It's a lot. He tries to share it. That's a bad idea.

There's other stuff that happens in the story, from Jonas' budding yet somehow stunted relationship with Fiona to the mystery of what happened to the previous receiver (Taylor Swift) to a whole thing with a baby, and all of this stuff is great. But the bulk of the story really deals, thematically at least, with the question of whether or not we are human if we don't feel anything.

And that's a good question. A question I think is worth asking. Are our emotions what make us human? And if not, then what does? Even more pointed perhaps is the question, "What cost is too high a price to pay for peace?" At what point have we taken too much away, and life is no longer worth living?

Those are really valid questions to ask, and I'm glad the movie addresses them. This is, however, where my criticism from the top comes in. The Giver is an entire movie about how necessary emotions are to life and life to the full. In that sense, then, shouldn't the movie have been more emotionally affecting? If the whole point is that deep and powerful emotions are the core of our humanity, then shouldn't the movie give us these feelings?

Instead of deep emotions, what I really got from it was some nice entertainment. It's interesting, it asks valid questions, and it's not terrible to sit through. But the movie isn't great. It's really not. It's just fine. Okay. And that's not something a movie that ostensibly dealing with the vast spectrum of human experience ought to be.

There were moments that stood out. The moment when Jonas entertains the baby Gabriel with funny faces was actually really excellent and made me bust out laughing in the theater. And the part where the giver bolsters Jonas with memories of human resistance and protests and courage and sacrifice - well that got me pumped up like that kind of thing always does. But those moments were few and far between.

For the most part, the movie worked and functioned, but it never soared. It never really got past just kind of working and started being good. You know?

Also, I had a handful of plothole problems with it that vastly dampened my appreciation of the film. Yes, they are all nitpicky, so I won't list them here, but suffice it to say that the logic of the film was pretty terrible, and I honestly feel like a lot could have been done to tighten it up. Also, for a movie that mentioned in the narration how race was no longer a thing, that was a heck of a white cast. Get Morgan Freeman to play the giver, get Shay Mitchell to play Fiona, get Sinqua Walls for Jonas, just do something or other to make this movie less hella white.

Overall, like I said, I think this movie is fine. But fine doesn't cut it. In a very real sense, the most damning criticism you can make of a film is that it's "okay". Because that means that the film has failed its most crucial task: it has not transformed you, either for the better or for the worse. 

Film is a transformative medium. I believe that strongly. The point of film is to tell a story that will change the viewer. You tell a story because you have something to say. So say it well. We tell the stories that matter to us, and I'm totally down with The Giver being an important story that matters. That's great. I agree with so much of this movie ideologically. Where it fails, though, is in the execution.

If your film does not impact the audience, if they do not remember it, it has failed. The Giver is about the importance of memory and of feelings and of human passion. It should absolutely not be a throwaway summer tentpole like this. It shouldn't be lowest common denominator. It could have been more. That's all, really, that I have to say. It could have been more, and it should have been more.

Is there a more damning criticism than to call a movie "fine"?

Monday, September 1, 2014

RECAP: Outlander 1x04 - Geilis Duncan Knows Too Much

There is a distinct and meaningful satisfaction that comes from seeing your predictions about a television show coming true. I mention this because, so far at least, my interpretation of how the first Outlander novel would be translated to the screen has been spot on. Sure, I missed the finer details of how the show is making the source material more feminist and that is rad as hell, but the larger points about where they're breaking the story? Yeah. I got that. Because I'm awesome.

Fine, enough gloating, let's get down to brass tacks. What happened this week?

This week, like last week, starts with a misdirect. As we open, the camera pans to show us the sentries as Castle Leoch, nervously scanning the woods. They spot something. They aim their muskets. We see Claire running through the woods. Frantic. Oh no!

Actually, it's fine. The guards were startled, but it's just Claire playing a game of chase with the local kids. The kids, for the record, absolutely adore her. Her watchers, Rupert and the other one, are less thrilled with her antics, and beg Claire to let up and go back to the castle with them so they can enjoy the Gathering. After all, it only happens once every twenty years!

Reluctantly, Claire agrees to go. Because the misdirect was half-true, it seems. She was playing tag, that's true, but she was also finding the weak spots in the sentries' field of view, and plotting her escape. If the Gathering is tonight, then all the clan's fighting men will be drunk in the hall until morning, and Claire can escape. She can make her way back to the standing stones, and hopefully back to Frank.

Guess this episode is going to be the one where she tries to escape, guys! Better hold onto your petticoats.

For those of you just joining us, last week Claire heard a folk song sung by some pretty dude with a harp and realized that this meant she might be able to get back home. It also raised some rather significant questions about why she isn't telling anyone about her journey, since it seems to be a common enough trope in their literature that no one really thinks anything of it. Oh, some lady accidentally time-traveled two hundred years through the standing stones? Right on.

Anyway, this week is the Gathering, a time when all the members of Clan MacKenzie come up to the castle to pay their respects to the laird. Since this means all the men of the clan will be in one particular place at the same time, Claire figures this is the best possible time for her to hare off in search of the future. She also figures that she shouldn't tell anyone why she needs to escape, because she doesn't want to be burned as a witch. And I guess that's a fair point.

The biggest problem standing in her way is that she has now gone from having one guard (Rupert), to having two guards (Rupert and his friend). She disposes of one of them by setting him up with a local lusty wench - for reasons that mildly escape me the woman was interested in him - but she still has to deal with the other. Fortunately for all of her escape plans, Colum has ordered Claire to come along on the hunt tomorrow, in case someone gets gored by a boar, so she can do a lot of very suspicious things and blame them on the hunt.

Like, for example, going to the stables and picking out a horse. Old Alec is there, but for once Jamie isn't, and Claire is a little confused. Hasn't Jamie been pretty much living in the stables for weeks now? That's weird. But Alec tells her in no uncertain terms to leave it alone and piss off. So clearly something is going on. And Claire is going to ignore the crap out of that something going on so that she doesn't get distracted from her escape plan. Right on.

She keeps on making preparations, but when she gets back to her surgery, there's an unexpected guest. It's Geilis! You remember Geilis, the single most creepy person on this show. The lady in question is hovering by Claire's fire and has absolutely been rummaging through Claire's stuff while she was gone. She found Claire's giant bag of food, and isn't that suspicious? 

Geilis makes insinuations. Claire dodges them. Geilis makes vaguely stalkish remarks. Claire reminds herself why they're friends again...

Also Geilis makes a lot more references to her husband's stomach problems than seems overly polite. Like, I get it, your husband gets really bad gas. You don't have to tell me that literally every time I see you.

Geilis manages to hit on Claire's one real weak spot: talking about her husband. Claire doesn't like saying that her husband is dead, since it's not exactly true, but Geilis isn't the sort of character who will settle for being told he's "not alive." So Claire is forced to say it, and it's a testimony to Caitriona Balfe's acting skills that when she says it, it really sounds like a betrayal. She seems wounded to pronounce her husband dead, even if she's been letting everyone think that for weeks.

Possibly months. I'm not great at gauging how much time has passed on this show.

At least this works and convinces Geilis that Claire is deeply in mourning and really unhappy. Which is good? She implies heavily, as is her way, that Claire is barren, and isn't that a nice cherry on the sadness sundae!

Geilis continues rummaging and prying, but she does finally tell us something about herself. When she came to the town she was on her own, had nothing, just her wits and her looks and some knowledge of plants. She married Arthur not because she loved him (obviously), but because he was safe and secure and reasonably nice. Geilis is content with the choices she's made in life, and she wonders if Claire will be too.

And then she spoils this touching moment by making it absolutely clear that she knows Claire is going to run away. So there's that.

Claire ventures out of the surgery one last time to gather her last supply: a knife from the kitchens so that she can protect herself. But she runs into Mrs. Fitz on the way, and it's not like Mrs. Fitz is going to let go of an opportunity to dress her living doll for the biggest event in twenty years! She bustles Claire off and then shoves her into a fancy shmancy dress for the Gathering.

As a side note, where does Mrs. Fitz keep finding these dresses? I mean, Claire's everyday clothes seem pretty reasonable, since she's a fairly average size for those times (a little skinny and tall, maybe), and she only really has the two dresses, but she has way more formal clothes than the average lady of the day. Is Mrs. Fitz just stealing stuff out of the laundry so she can put them on Claire? Are there women of the castle who keep being mystified because their clothes disappear, and then they see them on Claire, but are afraid to say something because Mrs. Fitz is in charge of everything? Food for thought.

Okay, I will say that watching Mrs. Fitz dole out backhanded compliments to ladies she doesn't like in the hall, and then shoving people around so Claire gets a front seat is hilarious. Claire and Murtagh are her two pets, and she's very happy to treat them as such.

The Oathtaking begins with Colum's dramatic entrance - notable here because he chooses to walk the full length of the hall instead of slipping in close to his seat. Colum continues to make it clear that he does not see his bone-disease as making him less fit for duty, or see it as anything to be ashamed of. He's still the laird, and they will treat him as such. He then welcomes the men to Leoch, and starts the Oathtaking. Dougal is the first to come up, since he's Colum's brother and it's symbolic and all that. Dougal swears his sword and blood to Colum, and all that's well and good. They drink the ceremonial wine, everyone cheers, and Claire gets bored.

She decides now is the time to escape. But she does still have one minder to get rid of. That's where the port she got from Geilis and all the drugs she has access to in her surgery come in. She gives the dude drugged wine, and then watches as he absolutely chugs it. That's that problem taken care of!

Now she just has to get out of the castle, get down to the stable, steal a horse, dodge the sentries, and make her way thirty miles or so across unfamiliar country swarming with patrols and English soldiers. No big deal.

And of course she doesn't even make it out of the castle before disaster hits. First it comes in the form of Laoghaire asking Claire to make her a love potion to cast on Jamie. Claire sort of stutters for a minute, then grabs some random stuff and makes up a spell (that adorably references The Wizard of Oz) to get Laoghaire to go away. Cute. Besides, since Claire has no intention of sticking around, why shouldn't Laoghaire and Jamie end up together? She's all right with the concept, even if she has made it abundantly clear that she wants to climb Jamie like a tree.

Next, Claire can't even get out of the castle because she's accosted by drunken clansmen who want to rape her. Of course they do. But Dougal, who has made his feelings on rape very clear already on this show (he's not a huge fan, but it's more of a timing thing than a moral objection), shows up and fights them off. Unfortunately Dougal is also drunk. He kisses Claire against her will, which is interesting since we didn't even know he liked her, but he draws the line at actually raping her. What a gentleman. Yuck.

Still, our Claire can take care of herself. She brains Dougal with a chair and keeps going. Right on, girlfriend. She manages to make it all the way to the stables, and she's really close, so close, when WHAM. Claire trips over something hard in the dark. And then the thing tries to stab her.

Oh hey! It's Jamie, hiding in the stable!

Jamie is the only one to immediately suss out what Claire is doing and call her on it. He's a bit disappointed that she's running away, but he's more concerned that she hasn't thought this through. Claire is incensed by the implication that she didn't plan enough, but Jamie quickly reveals that she really hasn't. Sure, all the fighting men of Clan MacKenzie are up at the hall. So obviously Colum hired extra guards. And when they discover she's missing, which they will, they'll have the whole clan after her. It won't end well for Claire.

Unshockingly, Claire is devastated by this, and rails against Jamie. It's perhaps the first time that Jamie really understands that Claire isn't just complaining. She really and truly wants to leave. Desperately. She's not being dramatic. Well, she is being dramatic, but there's clearly something pretty intense going on. And Claire has no intention of telling him what that is.

Still, Jamie is very happy to escort Claire back up to the castle and make sure she doesn't run off. Because he looooooooves her, let's be real.

The only problem with this plan is that in escorting Claire up to the castle, Jamie himself walks up to the castle, something we are coming to see was very much not in the plan for tonight. He was sleeping in the stables for a reason: to avoid this. But he's found and set on by men of the clan immediately, and those men aren't about to let Colum MacKenzie's nephew skip the Oathtaking, are they?

We're treated to another little glimpse of shirtless Jamie as he changes into his full MacKenzie attire and Claire fumes in the background. While it's sad to realize that Jamie's being forced into this, it's super cute to see the two of them working as a team on this. Claire dismisses the men and controls access to Jamie while he steals himself for whatever is about to happen. Because the thing that's definitely not going to happen is Jamie swearing himself to Clan MacKenzie - he has his own clan. And he reminds Claire of this when he tells her his clan's motto: Je suis prest.*

Back in the hall, Claire runs into Murtagh and admits that she's the reason Jamie is here. Murtagh, Jamie's constant companion and probable relative, is devastated to see Jamie in the hall, and explains to Claire why this is such a bad thing. Basically, because Jamie is the laird's nephew, he's up there in the succession when Colum dies. Obviously neither Colum nor Dougal want this, but since Colum's living on borrowed time, it might become an issue soon. And Jamie is tragically very popular and a great leader. He would be a big draw, and Dougal might not be able to secure the succession for himself and Hamish.

This also explains the hostility between Dougal and Jamie, as well as the deep and meaningful tension about Hamish's (Colum's son) parentage. The succession is a big deal, and no one wants it messed with. The thing is, now that Jamie is in the hall, it's not like he can avoid swearing loyalty. If he swears to the MacKenzies, then he's a MacKenzie and could be laird someday. If he doesn't, then the MacKenzies will kill him for clan honor.


Murtagh and Claire basically fret in a corner for a while, but when it comes time for Jamie to take his oath, it seems their fretting was for nothing. He's a slick customer, and Jamie manages to both pledge to Clan MacKenzie and yet also keep himself out of the line of succession. Smooth move, kiddo. I give you a lot of props for this. He makes it clear that he is loyal to his own clan, but he pledges his sword to Colum under the bounds of kinship. And that works. People accept that. Yay!

The next morning everything seems different. Now that she's not run away, Claire actually does have to go to the hunt, and she's irritated by the whole thing. Still, it seems that boar hunting is more dangerous than she'd originally assumed. Claire has to save one boy whose leg has been gored, and then quickly runs off to find that another man has been savaged. The boy will live, albeit with a limp, but the man isn't going to recover. Instead, Claire and Dougal, who knows the man well, hold him while he bleeds out in the forest.

It's a disgusting scene, but also really interesting, for the main reason that for the first time Dougal sees that Claire has a lot of value to the clan. He's just been going along with Colum's assessment, but now he sees that she can do combat medicine. He can use that. Of course, on the other hand, why does this schoolteacher's wife know how to do combat medicine?

I think it's also quite interesting to note that Claire doesn't take this opportunity to run off. I mean, she could, actually. The hunt is a better option than the day before, because with all the commotion in the woods, and the fog, and the blood everywhere, it would be surprisingly hard to track her. 

She could run off in the name of getting lost in the woods for a good long while before she got in trouble. But as we noted last week, Claire can't ignore a person in pain. She would never consider running off when there was someone who needed healing. It's impossible for her. And so she doesn't.

Dougal and Claire make their somber way up to the castle and happen upon a game of field hockey. Jamie and Murtagh are playing, and Dougal apparently decides that the best solution for his angst at watching a friend die is to grab a stick and start smacking the hell out of Jamie in the name of "winning the game". It starts off friendly, and becomes increasingly less so as the game goes on. 

There's this fine line between healthy competition, and an uncle and nephew trying to beat the crap out of each other with sticks. Everyone there knows it. Jamie might have diffused the tension last night, but he's not out of the woods. Colum and Dougal still know he's a threat, and he's being reminded of that.

Claire goes back to the surgery, and is getting comfortable with the idea that she might be stuck there forever when Dougal comes in and point blank says what he's thinking: "You've seen men die before, and by violence."

She responds equally simply. "Yes. Many of them."

And now all our cards are on the table. Claire is sick of pretending to be just a simple schoolteacher's wife, but she's not willing to explain precisely what she is. For whatever reason, Dougal respects her forthrightness more than her protestations about dignity and being a lady. So he puts his cards on the table too. He's leaving the castle tomorrow to collect rents throughout the clan lands, and Claire is coming with him. She might yet get to escape.

End of episode.

*Incidentally, this is my clan's motto, because half my family is Scottish, and this is our clan. Just a sidenote, but reading these books makes me kind of happy because it's pretty much reading about my family's history. I mean, really literally. Same clan, same path from Scotland to France to America, same historical events. It's kinda rad.

Friday, August 29, 2014

RECAP: Outlander 1x03 - Claire Is Too Good At Her Job

Yeah, so apparently recovering from this wedding thing, and also physically getting back home, took a lot longer than I anticipated. Hopefully we'll be back to a regular posting schedule next week, but in the meantime, I did watch the newest episode of Outlander. And yes, it continues to be just as wonderful and amazing as promised.

The title of this episode is “The Way Out”, and it’s clearly on Claire’s mind. As you hopefully remember from last week, Claire is now basically a prisoner at Castle Leoch, imprisoned both because they think she’s an English spy and because they desperately need her medical skills to help the people of the castle. Claire’s not happy being stuck here in the past, and she’s looking for a way, any way, to get out.

But first, a flashback! We see a moment of Claire’s life with Frank prior to her abrupt transition in time, and it’s a very sweet moment indeed. Also, notably, a feminist one. In this memory, Claire and Frank are saying goodbye in a train station, as Claire gets ready to head to the Front, and Frank must stay behind in London. He’s protective and worried, but Claire is the sort of girl who never runs from danger, and she reassures him that she’s doing her duty, before kissing him through the train window as she moves off into the future.

I’m just saying, think of how many times we’ve seen that scenario play out with a wildly different gender dynamic. I find it incredibly refreshing to see Claire leaning over to kiss her man goodbye before she goes off to war. Even better, Frank isn’t guilting Claire over her choice or being anything but supportive and worried. It’s rad.

We then go into the world’s best misdirect. While Mrs. Fitz dolls up Claire like she’s her own, well, doll. One gets the impression from this, and the implication that Mrs. Fitz has been dressing Claire every morning for the multiple weeks she’s been at Castle Leoch, that Mrs. Fitz really really wanted a daughter. Also she kind of likes how Claire looks all pristine and not covered in scars.

But then Claire has to go and ruin the moment by telling Mrs. Fitz that she’s actually from the future and she fell through time and she needs to find some way to get back home because her husband is amazing and she misses him so much… Mrs. Fitz doesn’t really know how to react to this news, and promptly freaks the crap out, screaming about Claire being a witch and how she’s a demon and all that good stuff. Then Claire actually wakes up.

It’s a great misdirect for a couple of reasons. First, because this is a scene not in the book, but one that feels incredibly plausible. So I was stuck watching like, “Are they really changing it like this? Huh. Weird choice.” But it handily answers the audience’s question of why Claire never tells anyone. That’s why. And it’s a good reason. Second, this is a fantastic misdirect because it allowed the show to use a clip of Claire explaining her situation to someone in all of their promo-trailers without actually having to have a scene like that. Handy.

Anyway, the real business of the episode then gets underway. Mrs. Fitz wakes Claire up and gets her ready, reminding Claire that her existence in the castle relies on her being in Dougal and Colum’s good graces. The best way to do that? Lots of doctoring!

Of course, the doctor before Claire was a mis-informed quack who was pretty bad at his job even by ye olde-y standards, so in order to get to her doctoring, Claire has to clean out the surgery and get rid of that guy’s weird medicinal remedies. Like jars full of pill bugs and powdered human skull and dead mice. Fun, helpful stuff. But in between all the grossness are some valuable medicines, so the task isn’t impossible. Just boring. Insanely boring for Rupert, who is still her Dougal-assigned keeper. He yawns a lot. It’s pretty great.

As Claire gets down the real business of healing people, Rupert even goes bored enough to leave and go drink in the kitchen. It’s an interesting commentary on her character, too, that Claire doesn’t use this as an opportunity to try to run off. It seems that she really does take her doctoring seriously, whatever else she might resent about this place. There are sick and hurt people who need her, and she might be hell bent on leaving, but she’s still a physician. She still has a duty.

I like her.

When Claire comes up to the kitchen to try wrangling her guards into actually helping her, though, the real story of this episode gets going. It seems that one of the local boys has recently died after being possessed by a demonic spirit. Claire is baffled by this news, especially as it is delivered by a completely serious Mrs. Fitz. The stricken boy was friends with her grandson or nephew or something, and she’s terribly worried he might be taken too, since he went to the same evil place as the dead boy. But there’s no time to think on that now, as Colum has summoned Claire, and that could mean literally anything.

In this case, it means that Colum wishes to use Claire’s medical skills. He wants her to massage his legs - which as you may recall are misshapen due to a genetic disorder - and relieve the pain. Also we are treated to a positively badass scene where Colum tears his tailor a new one. The tailor has made Colum a new coat, but it’s a good foot longer than the current style, and Colum rightly assumes that this is because the tailor wants to hide his legs. And Colum? Colum is not ashamed of his legs. He refuses to be ashamed, and he’s certainly not going to pay anyone to imply he should be.

Just one more moment when this show proves that it can be radical and progressive and amazing without ever really feeling incongruous or anachronistic. Colum calls out ableism, Claire calls out sexism - it always feels natural and reasonable, because it is. People have always wanted to be treated as people, that’s not a new invention. There is no reason why Colum should feel ashamed about his legs, nor is there any reason why Claire should be okay with the idea of rape. Calling these things out isn’t anachronistic, it’s human. And awesome.

Back to the story, Claire’s a bit uncomfortable when Colum basically guilts her into massaging his legs, but then she recovers quickly and informs him that she’ll really need to massage his back in order to help the pain. Once more, Claire’s twentieth century medical training proves helpful, and her massage is the best relief Colum has gotten in years. Yay! People helping people!

While she massages him, they talk a bit about the stricken boy, and Claire inadvertently reveals that she doesn’t believe in demons or devils. No matter. Colum and everyone else believes enough to cover her. And he’s very grateful for her helping the pain, so he invites her to come to the hall tonight and listen to the bard sing.

This isn’t really Claire’s scene, and she’s quite happy to stand in the corner and drink some really strong wine, ignoring Dougal and his raging insensitivity as she tries to pretend she’s okay with being there. She ends up sitting right next to Laoghaire, the pretty girl that Jamie saved from a beating last episode. Laoghaire’s clearly got a thing for Jamie (because she is a human being with eyes), and Claire is more than happy to play matchmaker. She motions Jamie over, makes him sit next to Laoghaire, and then tells him how pretty Laoghaire is. 

Tragically, Jamie only has eyes for Claire, and spends the whole evening chatting with Claire only, while occasionally noticing that Laoghaire is still there. And then handing her a dirty dish to take to the kitchens. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny. It’s also not helped by Claire and Jamie’s obvious closeness. After you’ve ridden on a horse with someone for three days, seen them shirtless, bandaged their wounds, and sobbed all over them, you bond a little.

Since Claire’s been drinking steadily throughout the night, Jamie decides to intervene before she passes out in the hall, and manufactures a reason to get her out of there. But not before he takes her wine glass and downs it, an act of casual intimacy that makes Laoghaire positively green and makes the audience coo. Or at least it made me coo. And I do not regret that.

Jamie drags Claire off to the surgery to ask her to change his bandages. He’d have done it down at the stable, but he doesn’t want Old Alec, the horsemaster and his mentor, to see his scars. Alec knows, of course, but knowing and seeing are two very different things. That might be one of the more profound points made on this show.

Also the sexual tension between these two is getting so thick I feel like I’m going to choke on it. In a good way? Just make out already! Seriously, she slowly undresses him in order to look at his bandage, and their faces are so close together and this is becoming physically painful. Ugh. Attractive people saying goodnight to each other. Ugh.

Fortunately we are saved by a scene change to the next morning, where Claire (and a reluctant Rupert) join Geilis Duncan on a hunt for medicinal herbs. By way of casual chit-chat, Geilis mentions that she came up with Father Bain, who is going to perform an exorcism on “the Baxter boy”, aka Mrs. Fitz’s grandson/nephew person. Claire is immediately alarmed, Geilis is disturbingly okay with all of this. And also super duper creepy.

She clearly knows something is off with Claire, and she’s got a solid hunch that whatever is up with Claire is not natural. Claire senses danger, and she should.

But also Claire’s innate sense of duty and need to help people in pain kicks in, and she rushes off to save Thomas Baxter from the tender mercies of Father Bain and an exorcism. This part, just for the record, isn’t actually in the book, but it should be, because it so excellently sets up later plot points. Anyway, Claire bursts in and tries to heal everything, while the priest freaks out and hates her vaguely for interfering with God’s work. And that priest is even creepier and more sinister than Geilis, which is saying something. 

Rupert drags a dejected Claire back to the castle, where she sits down to rest for a moment and accidentally interrupts a “moment” for someone else. Namely Jamie and Laoghaire, who are making out furiously in a corner of the storeroom. Awkward. But Claire responds by basically giving Jamie a thumbs up, and then pretending she saw nothing. Because Claire is a mensch.

Fortunately, being a mensch doesn’t stop Claire from razzing Jamie about his tonsil hockey at dinner. There’s some lovely wordplay over “messing with the fillies” and then there is foot-kicking under the table and I want to smash their heads together and make them kiss, okay? And apparently so does Jamie’s friend (older relative, actually) Murtaugh, who tells Claire not-so-subtly that he thinks she should marry Jamie. Because reasons and the whole castle ships it by now.

This reminds Claire that she already is married, though, and she runs outside to cry a little. She’s so homesick, and Frank-sick, and just sick of being in 1743. I can’t blame her for needing a bit of a cry, and neither can Dougal, who happens on her vulnerable moment and is surprisingly kind about it. He tells her they’ll ride down to the town tomorrow, and she can visit with Geilis. It’s not a solution, but it helps.

Down in the village, Claire sticks the hell out. She’s dressed finely, riding her own horse, and accompanied by the brother of the laird. Not inconspicuous, exactly. Still, it’s nice for Claire to get to be with Geilis and talk herbs. Also Geilis takes a moment to warn Claire away from the priest, because he hates women and is also deeply crazy. Hooray! And Geilis continues trying to weasel information out of Claire, and Claire keeps trying to resist. What friendship. What love. What incredibly obvious ulterior motives…

The moment is interrupted when an angry mob appears, led by the priest, dragging a young boy to justice. Since Geilis’ husband is the local justice, they’ve come to her house, and Geilis remarks casually that her husband isn’t feeling well, so he’ll probably order the kid’s hand chopped off. Geilis is way too casual about maiming. Blegh.

And here’s the husband in question! Geilis’ husband, Arthur, is an elderly fat man with stomach problems. One would wonder how Arthur Duncan ended up with a hot wife like Geilis, but then again, some things never change. Like how hot women really like financial security. And, fortunately for Claire’s sense of justice, Arthur is really really dim. Geilis manipulates him into giving the boy a lighter sentence, mostly because Claire seems to want it, and Arthur thinks it’s all his own idea.

It would be cute if it weren’t so very terrifying how easily Geilis can run circles around her own spouse. I mean, I know she’s kind of creepy in the book, but the show has kicked her up about twelve notches. I love it.

The boy’s sentence is lightened to just getting his ear nailed to the pillory for an hour, a lenient judgment by medieval standards, but still one that horrifies Claire. Geilis decides to keep prying at her for more information, but Claire is saved when Jamie walks in. Jamie’s there to take her back to the castle, and by way of some adorable telepathy, he declines to hear anything about Claire’s past or stay for a cup of wine and interrogation. Good man, Jamie. He even brought Claire a cloak.

As Claire and Jamie are getting ready to leave, Claire can’t help worrying over the boy nailed to the pillory in the square. The people in the town are mocking him, and she just - Claire hates to see anyone in pain. She’s a healer. And Jamie? Jamie freaking loves that about her.

So they plot and plan and walk up to the pillory to take a look at the boy. Jamie taunts the child, while Claire pretends to swoon. The villagers are swarmed around Claire, making sure she’s okay, and Jamie takes the opportunity to pull the nail out of the boy’s ear while the incredibly conspicuous English lady plays on everyone’s assumptions that she’s afraid of blood and prone to swooning.

Their plan went off well, so Claire enlists Jamie in another scheme. To go to the “haunted” church where the two boys went right before becoming “possessed.” Jamie reveals that all the local boys go to this church, to prove their manhood and how they’re not scared. But lots of boys have died after visiting the church. And Claire might have found the reason - there’s a plot of plants that a lot of the boys eat. They look like wood garlic, but they’re actually lily of the valley, and that’s poisonous.

She knows what happened. She just has to prove it.

She doesn’t have much time, either. When she gets to the Baxter house, Father Bain is performing last rites on the boy. Claire pretty much demands to be allowed to treat him, and Mrs. Fitz agrees. Then Claire performs a “miracle.” She gives him essence of belladonna to cancel out the poison, and the boy wakes up. He’s healed, and Claire is officially in Colum’s good graces and the priest’s bad graces. Really bad. 

And when talking to Jamie, Claire realizes that she might have gotten a little too far into Colum’s good graces. She’s proven to be such a good healer that he can’t let her leave. Well, crap. Though, for the record, isn’t it nice to have a female character on a show whose biggest obstacle is being too good at her job? That’s nice.

Also, Jamie doesn’t really like hearing Claire complain about how she wants to “get out of here.” Because he loves her. Poor Jamie. Loving a time-traveler is hard business.

So Claire takes a moment for a hardcore sulk and some more drinking while she listens to the bard. Jamie likes Claire too much to let her have a sad, and he drags her up front to listen to the songs. He also helpfully translates.

I say helpfully because it turns out that this song is really deeply relevant to Claire’s life. It’s about a woman who traveled through the stones to a far distant land where she lived for a time and then returned again home. In other words, what happened to Claire? It’s happened before. And that means she can get home.

End of episode. Next week? The Gathering for Clan MacKenzie and Claire’s first real chance to escape! Also, more Jamie drama, and a lot more sexual tension it looks like. Guh.

It's not cheating if your husband hasn't been born yet, Claire.

Friday, August 22, 2014

At a Wedding, Carry on Without Me!

As this is being published, I'll be out in the woods of Pennsylvania, setting up for my best friend's wedding. It's kind of awesome. I'm pretty okay with it.

But, since the wedding is pretty far from civilization, and I'm way too braindead to prepare anything for you, instead of actual content, here's the video for Sia's new song "Chandelier", because it's amazing and stunning and I love it.

I'll be back on Monday.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Les Miserables, and the Problem of Adaptation

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is one of those stories that has been spun off so many times and so many ways that it’s hard to remember now what the original point of the story was. Is it a story of redemption? A screed about class warfare? A handbook to revolution? A really long, boring historical story about some dude who kind of wandered around for a while and then died?

The answer is all of these, and also none of them. Each interpretation of the story has focused on something different. The 2012 Tom Hooper version locks its gaze on the redemptive arc of Jean Valjean. The early 2000s non-musical is more about the historical facets of the story and the relationship between Javert and Valjean. The musical is kind of all over the place, no matter how good the songs are, but it generally falls in favor of a romantic version of events, privileging love and human relationships over the movements of nations and the grim reality of war.

Which of these is the real version? Well, all of them. All of them are equally valid, though not all of them are equally good. See, the thing that most people forget when making an adaptation of an existing work like Hugo’s masterpiece is that the real key to creating something you can be proud of is making it your own. So all of these are valid versions of the story, because they don’t just tell us about the original tale, they also tell us about the soul of the person adapting the story. We see what matters to them. And there’s a lot of value in that.

The problem comes when a text, like Les Mis, becomes so popular and “revered” that one reading of the text becomes seen as more canon than another. So, in this case, the musical version and its emphasis on the romantic warm-fuzzies of the story tends to overshadow the other interpretations. Just by virtue of popularity. And that’s all well and good, I do quite like the musical, but it can also really mess things up. Why? Because when a single reading of the text becomes overwhelmingly popular like this, it’s easy for it to overshadow future interpretations.

In other words, because of the popularity of the Les Mis musical, it’s hard now for anyone to imagine interpreting this story differently. Someone says, “I want to tell the story of Les Miserables!” and everyone assumes that they mean they want to tell it in precisely the same way the musical did. Set in that precise time frame, with that amount of screentime given to each historical period the story covers, with those themes, and those English accents.

Seriously. It’s set in France. Why does literally every film version of this story insist on making the actors speak in British accents? It’s weird. Really weird. Hugh Jackman is Australian. Liam Neeson is Irish. Anne Hathaway and Uma Thurman are Americans. And all of their characters are French for crying out loud.

That’s not a super important example, but I hope it gets across what I mean. Something so simple as the accent with which actors play these characters - the original musical had actors with British accents, because the original musical was cast and first performed in London’s West End. So of course the cast had British accents. But then it came to America, and everyone seemed to assume that British accents were part of how it was supposed to be done, and now, decades later, that’s a thing. A definite thing. Can you imagine a version of Les Miserables where the actors had American accents? The horror!

It’s stuff like this, but on a global scale. And unfortunately, it’s stuff like this that blinds us to the real important aspects of the story, the ones that actually do matter in reinterpretation. For example, Tom Hooper’s 2012 version of the musical was largely praised for sticking so closely to the original. 

The main criticisms had to do with the places where Hooper had decided to do something a little different, to play around with the source material. Like where he used a slightly experimental shooting style and shot a lot of it first person, on hand-held cameras. How he had the music recorded on set and not on a soundstage. How he gave parts of the story a heightened reality, a sense of surrealism not present in the stage version.

All of those things? Are the parts I actually like about Hooper’s version. I don’t really give two craps about the rest of it. It’s mediocre sappy pablum, and I could live without it. But the haunting scene where Gavroche rides on the back of a carriage, staring into the camera and incisively diagnosing social malaise? Yeah, I like that. 

The part where the poor of Paris stare straight at the audience and demand neither their pity nor their condemnation, but rather their respect? I like that too. I like the parts where the movie makes you look. Where it grabs your chin, rubs your nose in it, and says Look at this. It is important.

But the sweeping vistas of the French countryside and the montages of a broken Jean Valjean searching for work leave me cold. Now, part of this is the timing of the film. In translating the movie from stage to screen, I feel like Hooper made a big blunder when he decided to keep the weird narrative proportions of the musical. In the show, the first act covers about twenty years of time, skipping blithely through Valjean’s life, from his time as a prisoner all the way up through to his retirement as an old man in Paris. Literally, twenty years. And act two? It covers the space of maybe a couple of days.

That’s very lopsided, obviously. And it works in the musical, because we have all that lovely, stirring revolutionary music and all that. But in this film, Valjean is clearly situated as the main character. This is Hugh Jackman’s star turn. It’s Valjean’s story that we follow, his transformation that we hope for. And his transformation is over in the first five minutes.

It doesn’t really make any sense, does it? The novel handles this by actually giving you a vast ensemble of developed and intriguing characters, and following all of their arcs as they reconcile or distance themselves from an understanding of God and redemption. Jean Valjean is the central character, yes, but he’s not the protagonist exactly. His transformation is largely a done deal in the story, and he functions more as a facilitator of others’ transformational journeys.

But in this movie, none of the other characters are developed enough to grasp the torch, save maybe Hathaway’s Fantine who barely gets any screentime, and so the story feels stilted. We’re here for Valjean, but he’s not very interesting. The better story would have been to show us Valjean as a young man, Valjean in prison, Valjean desperately seeking work, Valjean in rage and hatred and frustration, Valjean stealing from the Bishop, Valjean being broken, and Valjean repenting. Those first five minutes of the movie are the most compelling to me, and they’re glossed over in a series of cinematic montages.

It’s not just that, though. Because I feel like, in a very real sense, we all love Les Miserables too much now to actually appreciate it. We spend so much time enjoying this one very specific version that we don’t really see the larger points being made. 

Obviously I’m talking about this in the context of Les Mis because it’s a story that I care about a lot. Heck, I’m even working on my own version (which is very much removed from the original, because it is set in space and also ridiculous), and a friend of mine in high school made a short film that recast the story into the second world war, with Jean Valjean as an escaped Jew fleeing the concentration camps, and Javert as a Gestapo officer hiding his Romany background. 

What I find interesting about these versions, both my space opera version and my friend’s retelling in the second world war, is that they are no less valid understandings of the original text than the ones that stick strictly to the setting in post-Revolutionary France and insist on keeping everyone’s names the same. Our stories are different, yeah, but that doesn’t make them bad. In fact, by changing the surface details, these radically different versions can often serve to more clearly highlight the actual meaning of the text.

Take, for example, Clueless. Yeah, it’s a beloved teen classic, and very funny, but it’s also an incredibly clever retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. What I love about the film, and what I think it manages much better than the stodgily true to the book Emma that came out a few years later, is that it really captures the essence and the point of the story. The point of the story is that Emma is kind-hearted, but ultimately naive and a bit prejudiced. It’s easier to see in Clueless because we’re not distracted by the trappings of the story. We just take it as it is.

Or we could look at 10 Things I Hate About You, another teen classic (and one that really deeply influenced my idea of what it meant to be an awesome teenager). It’s based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but it actually succeeds much better than the usual productions of the play at getting to the heart of the show’s material: marriage is a compromise between two individuals, and love is about choices and work more than romance and frippery. You can get that in the play, sure, but it’s a heck of a lot easier in the movie.

Also there’s a Shakespeare Retold version that’s amazing, but that’s another matter. And also that one takes just as many liberties with the story as 10 Things does, it just happens to keep a bit of the dialogue the same. Anyway.

The point here isn’t to bash adaptations that stay too faithful to the original material. A lot of those are amazing. Kenneth Branaugh’s Much Ado About Nothing is deeply devoted to its source material (and one of the best cast movies I have ever seen), and it’s amazing. No, faithful adaptations can be good. But so can adaptations that take a bit more liberty. 

What really matters in adapting a story is how much of the message of the story comes through. And I know that it’s not particularly cool or of the moment to talk about stories having “a message”, but let’s be real, they all do. Every story tells us something about the world and who we are in it, the question is what it’s saying. And chances are, if you love a story, you love what it says. So if you adapt that story, you should be adapting the message that you love.

For me, in Les Miserables, what I love is the story of redemption, but also the pragmatic realism of the circumstances these characters find themselves in. The schoolboys fail in their revolution. Some good people die, and some bad people continue to thrive no matter what happens. A few people get happy endings. More people don’t.

It’s a story about identity, about how our circumstances define who we are, and how the world will define us if we let it. Jean Valjean’s story is one of self-understanding, his constant refrain, “Who am I?” It’s an important story. And it’s a story that, when I adapted it, I changed surface details of, in order to highlight the beauty underneath. That underneath stuff is the part that really matters. All the rest of it is frosting.

Gives me chills.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What's On My Pull List? (Storm, Elektra, Lazarus, and More!)

A page from Elektra.
Hello all! A few months ago, I gave you guys a peek at what's on my pull list, as in, what comics I pre-order at my local comic book shop. Pre-ordering is a great way to vote (monetarily) for the projects and stories that you think should stick around, and it's a handy way of helping your local geek scene become just a scooch more diverse and awesome. I have a personal policy of primarily subscribing to female-lead or female-centric projects, but there are a couple dudes who've snuck their way in.

Anyway, I thought it might be time to update this list, since in the past couple of months, I've been pleased to see a whole bunch of new awesome titles coming out, ones with ladies kicking ass and taking names, and I figure it's worth letting you know what all I've added to my list since last time. 

[For the record, in case you didn't click that link above, I've already mentioned that I have Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Lumberjanes, and the Wonder Woman and Saga trades on my list.]

1. Storm (Marvel)

I was kind of surprised to know this, but the 2014 Storm comic is the first time that Storm, inarguably the most recognizable member of the X-Men next to Wolverine, got a stand-alone comic. That's weird that it took that long, and it's kind of insulting when you think about how she is hands down one of the most popular comic book characters in the world. But whatever. She has one now, and it's pretty darn good!

Storm as a character (real name Ororo Munroe) has always fascinated me, so I'm digging the way that this new comic examines her view of herself. In her life she has been revered as a goddess, lived as a thief on the streets of Cairo, been a superhero, married a king, and now is the headmistress of a school for mutants. She's had an interesting life is what I'm saying. The comic seeks to explore that life, but also to examine who Storm really is when she's by herself. So much of her life has involved other people trying to define her, but who does she says she is?

Identity is always an important issue, but it's especially compelling to see it examined through this lens. Ororo is an African woman, a superhero, an immigrant, and a mutant - she's got a lot of identities to choose from, but she also has a lot of experience with negative labeling. So I like that this seems to be the tack of the new comic, and I'm mostly just thrilled that we get a new comic at all!

2. Elektra (Marvel)

While I do have friends who swear up and down by Elektra, she's never really been one of my favorites. Still, this current run of her story (part of the Marvel NOW series) is really interesting. Artistically it's amazing, with swirling, dream-like paintings on every page, and covers that are just breath-taking. Story-wise, I feel like I'm probably missing something because her backstory isn't one I know as well, but it's still pretty interesting.

It's weird to read a book that is a superhero title but still feels like a fever dream, all blended visuals and cryptic dialogue. Elektra is trying to atone for the sins of her past, but she's afraid she never can. Also, she is still an assassin, and while she doesn't want to kill any bad guys, that doesn't mean she's above killing killers. This makes her a very interesting and perplexing character, which I do enjoy.

Overall, though, I don't feel like I'm super into this story. I don't know. I'm definitely still reading it, but I feel like something is missing, some vital key to my falling head over face in love with this story. I do really like the villain, Bloody Lips, but it's only recently that he's taken center stage enough to pose a serious threat. And while I understand that this book as well is dealing with issues of identity - does who we were define who we will be - I don't think it's fully baked yet. Still, I am reading it.

3. Bee and Puppycat (Boom!Studios)

Okay, to be fair, this one is pretty much just pure adorable crack. Bee and Puppycat is a story you might know from the kickstarter a little while back, and right now they're doing a limited run of comics through Boom!Studios. The comics are cute if episodic, and the whole thing is pretty much on the level of nice thing that you read in order to cleanse you palate after something intense.

Not that there's no place for that in my comics list. Obviously there is. And I appreciate the idea of supporting comics that anyone can read, that are appropriate and entertaining for all ages. Bee and Puppycat are temp workers for the world's weirdest temp agency, taking jobs that sometimes require them to fix a music box hidden in a house full of music boxes, and sometimes taking them to far off lands while still in their pajamas. 

If you like Adventure Time or Bravest Warriors, then you'll probably like Bee and Puppycat. Which is by no means an insult. I really love a little adorable crack in my day. It really helps get your brain ready to read about some angsty superheroes some more.

4. Rat Queens (Image)

I love this comic because it makes me laugh. Nothing really more complex than that. Rat Queens is a bawdy, crass, hilarious comic about a team of female adventurers living in the Discworld-esque town of Pallisade, and fighting against monstrous evil, as well as the bureaucratic system that keeps trying to kick them out of town. It's a bit silly, and entirely bizarre, and it makes me happy on a deep and meaningful level.

I think part of the reason I appreciate this comic so much is because it directly relates to my experiences as a female geek. It satisfies a craving I didn't even knew I had. See, when I started playing D&D, it was in a group with only one other girl, and while I have since played in more diverse groups, D&D always stuck in my head as a "guy's game". That in order to play it and feel like I was playing it in a fun way, I had to act like the guys, play like the guys, sometimes even play a guy. I had this weird idea, because it took a long time for me to figure out otherwise, that in order to have fun playing Dungeons and Dragons, I had to remove all my femininity for a couple of hours. If I didn't, I'd be a killjoy or a boring person or whatever.

Not true. And I really enjoy reading a comic that reminds me of why I fell in love with Dungeons and Dragons in the first place, but that also recognizes the place for femininity even in a bawdy role-playing game.

5. Lazarus (Image)

If you want to be technical, I don't actually pre-order the issues of this one. Instead I have a standing pre-order of the trade paperback, because I got into a little late, and I have a weird thing about having something in partially issues and partially trade paperbacks, I know it's dumb but it booooothers me.

Anyway. Lazarus is the kind of comic that takes a while to sink in. I'm still not sure if I actually like it or not, but that doesn't really matter. I'm invested. The story takes place in an apocalyptic future of the United States (and the world, I assume, but we've mostly just seen the Western US) where people are segregated into a strict feudal system. Everyone is divided into families. The families rule huge swaths of the country, get the best of the best food and education and living situations - effectively acting as a mix between the nobility and the heads of a corporation.

Everyone else is either a serf (as in someone who can offer a valuable skill or service to the family and therefore is cared for financially and medically), or waste. If you're waste, then you have nothing.

The whole book examines the class issues innate in a system like this, as well as the complex stories of the characters who have to live in this society. Our main character is Forever Carlyle, the "Lazarus" of the Carlyle Family. She's genetically engineered and made into a bio-weapon to be the family's enforcer, as well as their human shield. Forever's an interesting character, though I'm actually more intrigued by the other characters, the ones lower on society's totem pole. Still, awesome story.

- This is only part of the list. The rest will be coming to you next week! -

I think it's worth noting here how many of the comics I pre-order are Marvel titles. That's not an accident or a quirk of fate or anything. It so happens that Marvel is the company currently publishing the kind of stories that I like. Stories about women and people of color who manage to be heroic even without billion dollar trust funds or phenomenal cosmic powers. When it comes to superpowers, I'm much more interested in the idea of identity and what it means to be a hero in our world than I am in looking at cool stories about gadgets or superpowers or apocalyptic crossover events.

I mean, there's a reason why my favorite superheroes are Wonder Woman and Captain America, two squeaky clean scouts who just want people to have compassion for each other and really think about their actions. 

And when it comes to non-superhero titles, I tend to gravitate towards stories that are a bit more unusual and surprising, which I guess happen to be mostly what Image publishes. Not sure how they got the mass market share on crazy, but I'm not going to argue.

The real lesson here is that I love diverse comics. Not just because I have all these philosophical reasons for loving them or because I only support things I can ideologically agree with (even I'm not that good), but because I think diverse comics make for better stories. We can explore the world so much more fully, and tell so many more interesting stories when we're not bound to a single white, middle-class, male view of society. Diversity is good. It makes life and comics better.

Fionna and Cake also make life and comics better.