Friday, March 24, 2017


And speaking of Beasts, as I was last post, here's an update from my editor, the inexhaustible Kaylan Adair:

"WE ARE DONE my dear!" Meaning we have finally completed line-edits on Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, and are ready to sprint into production — at last!

My line edits are done! Drinks all around!

Next stop: copyediting, where those last few pesky typos will be rooted out from wherever they're lurking.

The gorgeous cover (soon to be revealed!) has already been designed, and typesetting and formatting will be going on over the next couple of months.

(Which reminds me, if you operate or know of a book-review blog that might be interested in a preview copy of Beast for review, let me know via thew Contact Info up there in the corner, or message me at my FB hangout Lisa Jensen Books.)

So thrilled to finally be back on track with my beloved Beast!

Here's a rare sight from earlier this week: entire pages of manuscript text in the (dreaded) Track Changes program — without editorial notations! (Usually there's a daunting zebra pattern of red/blue editorial comments in the margins.) That's Roma the Cat in charge of pet therapy!

Thursday, March 23, 2017


How does Disney's new Beauty and the Beast shape up?

So, I went to see Disney's new Beauty and the Beast movie. Full disclosure: Disney's 1991 cartoon version, along with the dreamy 1946 Jean Cocteau black-and-white La Belle et la Bete, inspired me to write my own alternative take on the tale.

(Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, due out March 6, 2018. But you knew that!)

When it was first announced that Disney was doing a live-action remake, my first reaction was: why? They'd gotten everything so right the first time.

The obvious answer is the studio wants to wrest another megazillion bucks in profits out of tried-and-true properties to which the studio already owns the rights. (See other recent live-action remakes like Cinderella and Maleficent.)

But, the more pertinent question is: have they built a better Beast?

Belle and Gaston: no way, lout
Lavish, enormously-budgeted, gorgeously-produced, and directed by Bill Condon as a color-saturated movie musical extravaganza, the new version is much longer than the cartoon.

Additions have been made to the original script by Linda Woolverton (who does not get a credit this time around) by screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos.

There's some new backstory about the "Beauty" character, Belle (Emma Watson), her clockmaker father (Kevin Kline), and her absent mother. The pivotal moment when an insulted enchantress casts a spell to turn the spoiled, frivolous young prince into the fearsome Beast (Dan Stevens) is acted out as a prologue. And three new songs have been added to the Oscar-winning musical score by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman (new lyrics written by Tim Rice).

Otherwise, the story hews pretty closely to the (Disney) original. Belle is considered "odd" in her French country village because she reads books, dreams of adventure, and is in no hurry to get married — especially not to Gaston (Luke Evans), the narcissistic lout who means to make her his wife because "she's as pretty as me."

Beast and Belle: the way to a girl's heart
When her father is taken prisoner by a horrible Beast in a castle hidden in the woods, Belle demands to take her father's place. She doesn't know the fearsome Beast is a prince under a witch's curse. All his servants have been turned into household objects who befriend Belle, knowing that only a girl who falls in love with Beast and earns his love in return can break the curse on them all.

But there's a ticking clock: an enchanted rose preserved under a (ahem) bell jar. If Beast hasn't found love by the time the last petal drops, he and his people will be trapped in the curse for the rest of their lives.

Lumiere: candle power

Fractious with each other at first, Belle and Beast start to bond — especially when he invites her to visit his vast library. Meanwhile, the hateful Gaston makes plans to storm the castle, kill the beast, and "rescue" the girl.

There are many charming and funny interactions between Belle and the enchanted objects. I loved the staging of the song, "Be Our Guest," led by the irrepressible master-of-ceremonies, Lumiere, the candelabra (voice and motion-capture movements by Ewan McGregor), a show-stopping production number with its homages to Busby Berkeley-style overhead shots, and clever lyrics. ("No one's gloomy or complaining/When the flatware's entertaining").

I also found it rather touching toward the end when the enchanted objects gradually begin to lose the power to move and speak — ie: their human qualities —the more petals the rose drops.

Stevens aroar: don't mess with this Beast!
And this is a great-looking Beast, with his impressively long and upswept horns. (Although his mane looks a bit overly-groomed for my taste.) He's at his beastly best when he comes roaring out of the castle to fight off a pack of ravening wolves who attack Belle in the woods.

But it's hard to tell how much Stevens (late of Downton Abbey and currently on Legion) was able to contribute to the role. I experienced technical difficulties in some of his scenes with Belle. Long and medium shots, when the actors share the same physical space (Stevens in costume), are convincing enough. But at other times, Stevens doesn't get to use his own face to express the character's emotions because a decision was made to do Beast's face as a CGI effect.

Beast and Belle in the ballroom: sumptuous
Granted, it's a pretty amazing effect. But there are moments when Beast's expressions don't look as natural as Belle's when they are in close-up together. We sense a thin layer of physical and emotional disconnect between them — a problem when their relationship is meant to be the heart of the movie — so their romance never quite swept me up in its luscious grip, as it should have.

Another problem is that way to much of the story is devoted to the preening Gaston and his evil machinations. Don't get me wrong; I've loved Luke Evans ever since Tamara Drewe. But Gaston is a one-note character who sucks up too much precious screen time away from Belle and Beast — who could really use it to establish more rapport.

The showdown with Gaston in the finale is also a bit disappointing, with Beast leaping about like Spiderman from one castle spire to the next. Since when did his transformation into a beast come with web-slinging capabilities?

Still this is a sumptuous rendering of the classic fairy tale. But the essential question of why someone who falls in love with the noble Beast would be pleased when he suddenly turns into the standard-issue "handsome prince" in the end remains unresolved. What's so happily-ever-after about that?

This is the one thing that's always bugged me about this fairy tale. And it's an issue I'll be grappling with in my book!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Dark side of childhood explored with humor, charm, in 'Zucchini'

Childhood is not for sissies.

Not all children are lucky enough to be raised by a loving family in a safe home. But marginalized kids get their own story in the eloquent and affecting animated feature, My Life as a Zucchini.

Directed by Claude Barras, this Oscar-nominated feature is a gently told tale that faces the dark side of childhood, yet offers the possibility of redemption through humor, friendship, and love.

A Swiss-born animation filmmaker who works in France, Barras based his story on an adult novel about kids in crisis written by Gilles Paris. Barras makes it more family-friendly by focusing on the solidarity of children together in a group home after the worst of their individual crises has passed.

The protagonist is a 9-year-old boy who prefers to be called "Zucchini," the nickname bestowed by his mother. She's an embittered single mom who drinks too much beer and neglects him, when she's not threatening to thrash him.

But she's the devil he knows, so when she is suddenly out of the picture (a surprisingly sobering event that happens in the first ten minutes), Zucchini is full of dread to suddenly be on his own.

A soft-hearted policeman named Raymond takes an interest in the boy and delivers him to a group home for kids who have lost their families. Their parents are drug addicts, or prison inmates, or mentally ill, or otherwise too incapacitated to care for them. One boy's mom has been deported. As another boy explains to Zucchini, "There's no one left to love us.

Plot complications include the arrival of a new girl, Camille, whose family history has been particularly awful. Yet her response is to treat the other kids with extra empathy, so she is soon beloved by all — especially the smitten Zucchini.

Despite its serious subtext, the film has a playful, often joyous tone as the kids explore their world and search for their places in it. Zucchini likes to draw, and his crayon portraits of the other kids, and their activities add an extra layer of humor and charm.

Other visual elements in the film are more subtle, but just as rich. The headmistress has paintings by Joan Miro and Paul Klee on the wall behind her desk. And it makes perfect sense that Camille — all too ready to escape the cocoon of her past — is shown reading Kafka's Metamorphosis.

Barras' technique is a sophisticated update of classic stop-motion clay animation. Each character is originally modeled in clay and painted, then an articulated puppet is made of each character, and coated in silicon, which is rendered to approximate the surface and texture of clay on camera. But expressive details like lips, eyelids, and eyebrows, in various positions, are molded in clay and painstakingly applied to be shot the old-fashioned way: one frame at a time.

It's a laborious process — especially for a small, independent studio like Barras' with only ten staff animators. But the result is obviously a labor of love.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


In an alternate reality, my next novel, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge, would have been available at a bookstore near you as of today —March 7, 2017.

I'd be turning virtual cartwheels, and quaffing (actual) champagne!

But things don't always go according to plan. And nobody is more disappointed than me that my book has been delayed by one more year. We were on track for the original release date as recently as last August. But Circumstances intervened that (rather suddenly) required fundamental changes.

And now that those have been addressed, my new publication date is March 6 — 2018.

Yes, it seems like an eternity from now. (Especially for me, since I'm so eager for everyone to read it!) But to pass the time, I'm reviving my Beast of the Month countdown: for the next 12 months, I'll post images of some of my favorite Beasts from art, literature and the movies!

They won't be my Beast, exactly, but I hope they'll help get you in the mood!

First up: feast your eyes on this utterly gorgeous cover illustration for a 2014 children's book edition of La Belle et la Bete by French graphic artist David Sala. Pretty great, non?

The colors are clean and bold, the patterns are vivid, and I love the soft, almost Klimt-like details of the roses and faces. But best of all — what an impressive Beast!

See more of David Sala's La Belle et la Bete illustrations at his website.

And watch this space for future Beast updates!

Monday, March 6, 2017


Hugh Jackman has been trapped in the Wolverine character since his star-making debut in the first X-Men movie back in 2000. The franchise has had its ups and downs since then, so when Jackman announced last year that the next Wolverine movie would be his last in the role, who could blame him?

The question was, could the filmmakers come up with an exit strategy for their indestructible mutant hero that obeyed the "rules" of the X-Men mythos and gave Jackman a satisfying send-off?

The answer, in Logan,  is yes and no. Yes, the storyline is plausible enough (well, as plausible as anything ever is in the X-Men universe). But satisfying? Not so much.

Previous franchise films have explored racism, xenophobia, intolerance, and whether or not social outsiders would choose to be "normal" if they could.

But Logan is one interrupted chase melodrama from first to last, with an endless parade of faceless bad guys to be dispatched in endlessly gruesome ways. (This is the first X-Men movie to get an 'R' rating, and it's not only for the F-bombs.)

Keen and Jackman: blood relations
Jackman is as watchable as ever. But in a film almost entirely unburdened by humor or emotional connections — two attributes at which he excels in other movies — his uber-brooding Logan (aka Wolverine) has nowhere to grow.

The movie was directed and co-scripted by James Mangold, who delivered a shot of adamantium to revive the series with The Wolverine in 2013 (after the fiasco of X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

This time out, Mangold seems to think he's keeping the focus on Logan's tormented psyche and (often inconvenient) moral decency, by introducing a new little mutant, Laura (Dafne Keen) — grown from Logan's own DNA, right down to the claws — for him to look after.

Art imitates Art imitating Life
They are soon besieged by an army of evildoers out to nab Laura before Logan can drive her cross-country to join her friends at a sanctuary for new mutant kids in Canada. In an interesting, self-referential twist, the place may only exist in the pages of the X-Men comics the kids all read.

But the constant, vicious fighting, as Logan faces off against carjackers, a lynch mob, convoys of sinister government ops, and his own genetically engineered doppelganger, leaves little time for further character development.

It would be helpful, story-wise, if father and daughter found another way to bond besides shredding bad guys. A moment when they compare nightmares (Laura dreams that "people hurt me," Logan, that "I hurt people") is a step in the right direction — but then, the script delivers another platoon of nasty adversaries to be decimated by the family that slays together.

Jackman is up to the task, as usual. But he, the character, and the fans might have wished for the saga to go out with a little less bang, and a lot more heart.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Just when you thought it was safe to open your browser . . .

It's all over but the shouting — and the blaming — after this year's Academy Awards kerfuffle over the wrong Best Picture envelope.  If it had been up to me after such a gauche faux pas, I'd have awarded co-Oscars to both Moonlight and La La Land.

Fortunately both movies won big in other categories. Damien Chazelle took the Best Director prize for La La Land, but writer-director Barry Jenkins also took home Oscar gold for the screenplay to Moonlight. And each movie picked up one of the four acting prizes. So all in all, a pretty even match-up (if you don't count all the production  and music awards La La Land racked up).

But even as confusion reigned at the podium on Oscar Night, there's one thing you can always count on at this time of year: I mean, of course, the Return of the Oscar Barbies — 2017 edition!

It was not a very inspiring group this year, but I did have fun making Emma Stone's tap shoes. And of course, vintage Barbie already looks like Jackie Kennedy with no help at all from me! She also comes complete with Jackie's wardrobe, right down to  the pillbox hat.

If only I'd seen Florence Foster Jenkins (I think I was in Sweden when it opened), I'd have known that the character — a would-be opera diva with a notoriously tin ear — dresses up like a Valkyrie and attempts to sing Wagner. Now THAT would have been a fun costume to make!

Meanewhile, visit  the full rogue's gallery of Oscar Barbies through the years!