On A Tangent

The ultimate site for a generation sidetracked by the fandom life


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Beginning In Media Res, Origin Fatigue, and Worldbuilding; or, Fantastic Ideas and How to Lose Them

This piece contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. 

This weekend, after some house cleaning and the chaos of Thanksgiving, my mom and I went to the movies. We both wanted to see Moana and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so we settled on a double feature: Fantastic Beasts first, then dinner, and Moana for dessert.

Over dinner, we discussed the first movie. We both liked it, we agreed. We thought the visual effects were (pun intended) fantastic, the creatures were fascinating, and that Eddie Redmayne was a great choice for the lead.

But as we discussed, a thought occurred to me. I turned to my mom with a question.

“Did you understand who Grindelwald was?”

Her answer, of course, was no. My mom has seen the movies, but she never read the books. Though she might have remembered his brief appearance in the final films, he wasn’t really highlighted. For her, Grindelwald was just a name on a newspaper. The significance of his presence in the film was lost to her entirely. fb

Fantastic Beasts is a movie produced under strange, but increasingly common circumstances. Harry Potter is a global phenomenon — you’d be hard pressed to find someone of my generation who hasn’t read or at least watched it. It sparked films, LEGOs, theme parks, and the ever-expanding Pottermore, for those who just can’t get enough of the world. Fantastic Beasts is a product of that multimedia empire and ravenous fanbase, always clamoring for more — it’s a story already sketched out in vague lines for devoted fans who picked up the “textbook” on which it is based.

But the film fleshes that story out. And as a part of a multimedia franchise, it does so in a manner that assumes many things about what its audience knows about the setting. If Fantastic Beasts were merely a sequel, that might be okay. There is an expectation with sequels that you really only get the full picture if you’ve followed the series (although skilled writers should be able to ground you in the story regardless.)

But Fantastic Beasts isn’t a sequel, as such. It’s the beginning of a new series, one that, while related to Harry Potter tangentially, exists entirely on its own plot and characters. It is our entry into a world familiar, yet strange.

But if this is our entry point… boy, is it muddled.

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Tapping on the Fourth Wall: Do They Know They’re Singing?

Musical theater is a divisive medium. For some, it produces endless delight and fanatical devotion; for others, bafflement and fierce avoidance.

For me, musicals have always been a source of enjoyment. I grew up watching The Sound of Music once a year, every year. I spent most of the last academic year reviewing Broadway tour productions for my college newspaper (best gig ever – great seats for the low, low price of 500 words). I’ve even been in a musical or two myself.

But not everybody is musical fan, and understandably so. Musicals can be just plain baffling. Why is everyone singing? Why does everyone just accept this? Real life isn’t actually like this! (As a person who sings throughout my day, I beg to differ, but the point stands.) Musicals aren’t exactly a 1:1 reflection of everyday life.

But some musicals do try to tackle the question of “why are we singing?”. Some musicals seem to take place in a world where everyone sings and spontaneous extravagant musical numbers go unquestioned. But some musicals have a group of people consistently baffled by the theatrical antics of the main characters, a mirror for the audience who are less than spellbound by this perfectly choreographed and harmonized world.

I’ve been thinking about these questions recently and the worlds that musicals create. Specifically, because I recently binge-watched the first season of the CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (a musical comedy), I’ve been thinking about how these questions are addressed in musical television, both in shows that regularly feature musical numbers and ones for which musical numbers are a rarity.

Today, I’ll break down four of my favorite examples of musical TV and attempt to answer one question: do they know they’re singing?

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There and Back Again: A Reader’s Journey

Okay, so the title is a bit misleading, because this isn’t about The Hobbit. Well, it’s about a hobbit, but not The Hobbit. You get the gist.

Confession: I, Leah, self-proclaimed fantasy fan and avid reader, have never read Lord of the Rings.

I will pause here to allow time for your gasps of horror and shocked swooning.

We good? Okay. So, that confession aside, I’ve also come to the conclusion that it’s high time I fixed that. Not least because, later this year, I’ll be traveling to Oxford (!!!!) and generally basking in the academic and literary glow where John Ronald Reuel Tolkien once walked.

As I read, I’ll be availing you all of my thoughts, commentary, and general impressions. I plan to take it at a pace of about 100 pages a week, and I’ll be posting which chapters I’m reading next in my weekly update on Fridays, so if any of you want to follow along, I’d enjoy the fellowship.

…eh? Eh? Okay, even I’ll admit that was a little bad.

I’ll be starting out with chapters 1-4 (A Long-Expected Party through A Short Cut to Mushrooms), so if you’re ready, bust out your swords (and your bows and your axes), and join on my travels through Middle Earth. It’s sure to be an incredible journey!


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10 Books to Shape a Life: Leah Edition

As a reader, English-degree-holder, and aspiring publishing professional, I get asked one question a lot:

“What’s your favorite book?”

Which, frankly, kills me because do you know how many good books exist in the world? And even having read only a small fraction of them, that still equates to dozens of books that have made me laugh, cry, have existential crises, and wish I were a better writer. Narrowing it down to just one? Impossible.

But ten? Ten is more manageable. Don’t get me wrong — it still requires hours worth of scanning my Goodreads, combing my bookshelves, and flipping through page upon page of great writing. But it’s doable.

So, without further ado, here are, in no particular order, the ten books that shaped my life:

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On a Tangent (Again)

Hello folks, and welcome back to the fray!

We’ve had a bit of a hiatus while Leah completed her degree, but we’re happy to return better, brighter, and feistier than ever!

We’ll be kicking off our reboot with a favorite subject for both of us: books! This week, we’ll each be compiling a list of ten favorite books — books that have influenced us as writers, readers, and citizens of the world. We’ll tell you when we read them, why we love them, and why you just might want to consider picking them up for yourself.

We’ll also be attempting to return to a weekly schedule of posts. Real life gets busy, but we want to get back to talking about the things we love, and discussing them with you!

Until then, happy reading, watching, and learning!

 

 


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Marvel Monday: I am Iron Man… but is Iron Man the hero?

For our Marvel Monday column for the next two months, we will be reviewing all of the Marvel canon movies to prepare for our big review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron  on May 1. This week, Leah will be reviewing Iron Man 1, 2, and 3. Today, we question who the real hero of Marvel’s Phase one debut is with Leah’s review of Iron Man (2008).

Welcome to another edition of Marvel Monday! This week is all about Iron Man, as I attempt to play catch-up for the reviews I missed last month. Today, we dive right in with the first installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

About a year ago, I decided to go back and watch all of the Iron Man films in succession. To be honest, I’m not even sure I watched them in the right order the first time I saw them, so watching the full trilogy was quite an experience as I got the full progression of Tony’s character arc. But this week, I’ll be taking a little time to step back from the trilogy and evaluate the films individually.

Iron Man is an odd place to build the foundation for a superhero series, which may seem like a bit of a strange statement. Even non-comic fans are familiar enough with the tropes underlying Iron Man’s story: eccentric genius with ample time and more-than-ample funds decides to step up for the sake of justice.  Seems like the perfect place to enter the superhero-verse, right?  The fascinating thing about Tony Stark, however, is that he doesn’t step up just for the sake of injustice — he steps up to face injustice that he caused. We’re entering the Marvel universe at the ground-level, not with a hero who acts on moral principle without personal connection, but with a hero who is selfish, ignorant of the consequences of his actions, and has to be exposed violently to the “real world” to come out a better man.  In a way, however, this makes Tony the ideal candidate for the entry into a vaster universe — he is so fundamentally human that we cannot help but identify with him. His is a story that is not about heroism so much as about redemption.

Iron Man is essentially an exercise letting Tony Stark atone for his neglectful behavior. His “billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” shtick has gotten the better of him, and after an eye-opening kidnapping, he realizes that he has played a large — if somewhat unintentional — destructive role in hundreds, maybe thousands of lives. Consequently, the rest of the film is spent trying — and sometimes failing — to account for these oversights.  It’s not just a feat of unexpected brilliance that leads Tony to create the Iron Man suit. It’s the realization that his neglect has had a very real impact for people, and that the lives lost ought not to be passed off as just “collateral damage.”  Tony must work past selfish tendencies to understand that his neglect has costs.  He has to defeat the enemy he has essentially created — the embodiment of his own company in Obadiah Stane — to fix the wrongs of his past.

Which leads me to my second realization in rewatching this movie.  Tony Stark is a very specific kind of hero, because his path to heroism is essentially composed of backing down the path he’s already created by his extravagance and idleness and trying to clean up the mess. So then the question becomes: if Tony is the reactive hero, who is the proactive hero of this film?  That distinction, I believe, belongs to Pepper Potts.

One thing that quickly became apparent as I was watching was how critical Pepper is to the plot.  Aside from her general duties of essentially running Tony’s life, she is the proactive force that identifies the heart of the problem.  She takes the information about the weapons project from Obadiah Stane at great risk to herself. She brings SHIELD into the fray.  She’s also the one who actually acts to destroy the arc reactor, stopping Stane in the process of killing Tony.  Pepper is also, most notably, the one who preserves Tony’s original mini-arc reactor. Tony is more than ready to throw it out, but Pepper instead decides to have it preserved for him — a joking gesture at first, but one that proves to be a Chekhov’s gun.  Without her foresight, Tony would have been dead long before his climactic battle.  While Tony is certainly crucial to Stane’s end, that end is only facilitated by the diligent groundwork laid by Pepper.  Expect me to come back to this moment when we discuss Iron Man 3 on Friday — a film in which Pepper is undisguisedly the heroine.

So is it true that no hero exists in a vacuum, as I argued last week about Cap? Or is there something more that I’m missing that definitively makes Tony the hero of his own tale? We’ll discuss further with Iron Man 2 on Thursday!