Sunday, February 10, 2019

Fairy Tale Media Fix: The Kid Who Would Be King.


It feels good to be right about something.  I’ll try not to brag too much.

For a number of months now I’ve been cheerleading a movie called The Kid Who Would Be King.  Since I saw the first trailer for it, I’ve been saying that it looks like a lot of fun.
 And the truth is, I saw the movie and guess what?  It was a lot of fun!

This isn’t exactly a fairy tale film but it does stray into Stuff of Legends territory, so I think it’s close enough.

The Kid Who Would Be King is a movie about a 12 year old boy named Alexander Elliot.  Alexander struggles with bullies at school and abandonment issues regarding his absentee father.  Then, one night when running from his bullies, he finds a sword stuck in a stone at a demolition site.  Alexander pulls the sword from the stone.  Before long, Alexander discovers that he has now been chosen as the new king, whose duties include defeating the sorceress Morgana and saving all of Britain from enslavement.  So, along with his friend Bedders, his two former bullies turned knights and Merlin in the form of a lanky teenage boy, he goes on a quest to defeat Morgana and experiences some self-discovery along the way.

This movie is the sophomore foray for director Joe Cornish, director of the inner city alien invasion movie Attack the Block.  It stars Louis Serkis as Alexander, Dean Chaumoo as Bedders, and Angus Imrie and Patrick Stewart as the young and old Merlin respectively.  All the actors do good jobs.  Probably the standout is Angus Imrie as teenage Merlin.  Especially entertaining are his spells which are entirely executed through elaborate hand gestures.
You know what?  Let's have another one.
Okay, that's enough.
 
King Arthur related movies haven’t exactly been having the greatest run lately.  And I’ve echoed the sentiment put forth by online media critic Patrick H. Willems that the problem is that new versions of the story have put forth of their radical new  takes without bothering to remind people of why they loved the stories to begin with.  Essentially, with old stories like this that get made into movies usually every decade or so, you have to provide people with the “greatest hits” before hitting with new stuff.  I’m pleased to report that The Kid Who Would Be King doesn’t make the same mistake as other recent films.  This film gives us Excalibur, the sword in the stone (the same sword for storytelling economy purposes here), Merlin, Morgana, Tintagel, The Lady of the Lake and even a round table of sorts.  Sure, the movie had plenty of new stuff too.  You can’t go as radical as “preteen becomes the new King Arthur” without changing things up a little.  Their take on the sorceress Morgana is decidedly different, portraying her as much less a witch and more of a demon at times.  Her human form also has a unique vegetative look with roots and vines all over.  The Lady of the Lake is now connected to every body of water in all of Britain, ranging from lakes to puddles to bathtubs.  Our new collection of knights also provides some nice diversity to reflect the face of modern Britain with Bedders (counterpart to Sir Bedivere) being a South Asian boy and Kaye (counterpart to Sir Kay) being a young black girl.  There is also one big change to the Arthurian legend that I’m rather fond of.  However, it comes as a big moment in the movie and a major turning point for Alexander’s story so I don’t want to give it away. 
The new take on Morgana
I think the thing that most won me over is the tone and the themes that were in play.  Most takes on the King Arthur story in recent years aim for some kind of adult drama.  They either try to make the story gritty and historically accurate or they focus on the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot.  The Kid Who Would Be King is a kids’ movie and as such it draws from a very kids’ storybook version of the Arthur legend.  In addition to all the fun mythological stuff I mentioned before, the movie focuses on all the super-idealistic chivalry stuff that’s become associated with the knights of the round table over the years.  While some people might see that stuff as a bit cheesy or juvenile, it’s more or less what I’ve wanted from a King Arthur film for a while.  When Arthurian stories focus on gritty violence or internal strife, it makes me forget what a noble experiment Camelot was actually supposed to be.  Happily, the optimistic tone is one of the main points of the movie and hope for a better world one of the main themes.
So, has The Kid Who Would Be King escaped the curse of recent Arthur films.  Well, maybe halfway.  The reviews I’ve seen have echoed my sentiment that the movie is a lot of fun.  However, last I checked it didn’t seem to be burning up the box office.  Which is too bad.

So, I’d very much recommend The Kid Who Would Be King.  It’s a lot of fun and if you’re anything like me, it might be just the King Arthur movie you’re looking for.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Snow White (1987)


Well, I said I’d review all the Cannon Movie Tales and here I am to cover the next one.  Honestly, I think I’m going to change up the way I do these.  As much as I liked the voting idea, it just didn’t seem to be working out.  After the first poll, I at most got one vote most of the time.  It also became a lot harder to do it once Blogger got rid of the poll widget.  If anyone objects, let me know in the comments.  Then at least we’ll know who was the one voting. ;-)
So, anyway, the next one on my list is Snow White from 1987.  The movie stars Nicola Stapleton as young Snow White and Sarah Patterson as the grown-up Snow White.  Our marquee star this time is Diana Rigg, best known as Emma Peel from The Avengers (British spy show, not superhero team playing the evil queen.  One other face you might recognize is Billy Barty, once again doing the fantasy dwarf thing that he was practically an expert at by that point.   
This movie is interesting because there are some parts that really stand out to me as interesting or well done.  However, there are other ideas that make me cringe.  There’s also one scene that is so bad and crazy it makes me practically laugh out loud.

First, let’s start with the good parts.

One good part is that I really don’t have to tell you the plot of this movie.  That’s because it’s “Snow White”.  It’s probably more “Snow White” than pretty much any adaptation of Snow White I have ever seen.  I have very rarely seen a movie that paid so much attention to the details of the text as it appeared in the Grimms’ book.  For example, you know that scene at the beginning of the fairy tale in which the queen drips some blood on the snowy windowsill and wishes for a child as white as snow, red as blood and black as ebony?  That scene’s in there, albeit with a musical number.  Or remember how the tale says that Snow White was only seven when her beauty started to surpass the Evil Queen’s?  Well, in this movie she’s only seven when she first arrives at the Dwarfs’ cottage.  She also stays there for ten years.  Why the Evil Queen hadn’t been checking up on who was the fairest for that decade, I don’t know (I suppose maybe for some time in the middle there, Snow’s awkward teenage years might have sent the Queen back to number one).  It has the poisoned apple that has a red half and a white half.  It even has all three of the queen’s attempts to end Snow White’s life.  Though, there is something about that which isn’t so good.  I’ll get to that later, though.  There are some things they leave out, but what they include is impressive enough that it doesn’t matter.  There are some other bits that I like.  I like that it starts with the moment that the Prince finds Snow White in the glass coffin and the rest of the story is related by one of the dwarfs telling the story.  I like that they had a good reason for the Huntsman to be charged with killing Snow White and why it didn’t seem suspicious for him to be accompanying him.  Namely, that it was during a hunt.  I even liked that they changed the Queen’s punishment at the end.  She isn’t made to dance to her death in red hot iron shoes, but she does get her comeuppance in a way that is almost as gruesome and which fits her crime a lot better.

But let’s move on to the stuff that’s not as good.

First of all, let’s remember that this is a musical.  As a musical it should have good, catchy, memorable songs.  Well, it doesn’t.  Most of the songs are pretty lame.  Probably the best of them is a song I’m assuming is titled “More Beautiful than Me” sung by the Diana Rigg as the Evil Queen.  However, this song isn’t even listed in the credits.  Here it is, by the way.
 Most of them are just awful.  Young Snow White sings this lyrically painful number about trying all the Dwarfs’ beds in the cottage that just makes you think “Why is she even singing this?”.  The sets and locations aren’t the greatest.  The castle’s okay.  However, the Dwarfs’ cottage and mine look really fake like they were built for a cash-strapped amusement park.  The movie doesn’t do a great job disguising its locations too.  All the Cannon Movie Tales were filmed in Israel, however I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to believe that it’s a European location because of the sets and costumes and where the tale was collected from.  However, once Snow White is out in the forest, you can tell that it’s not a European forest.  It’s especially the case when they show the animals living in the forest.  I mean, there are monkeys, for goodness sake.  Also, the Dwarfs don’t really stand out much as individual characters.  Here their names are Iddy, Biddy, Kiddy, Diddy, Giddy, Fiddy and Liddy.  Which one is which?  I couldn’t tell you.  However, that may have been by design, considering they sing a song about how no one can keep that straight.  The big one though is the Queen’s disguises when she’s going to kill Snow White.  The last one in which she dresses as a peasant woman in order to give Snow White the apple is fine.  The other two are not.  They are rather racist, in fact.  First, when she gives Snow White the bodice (not just a lace but a whole bodice), she dresses like a really cliché Romani woman and speaks with an accent that’s pretty much unplaceable.  The second time when she brings Snow White the comb, she’s dressed in the most blatant example of yellow-face I’ve ever seen.  Only it’s not really yellow but stark white.  I don’t know if she was supposed to look like a geisha or a giant porcelain doll or what.  Anyway, it’s accompanied by an accent that makes her sound like a cutesy Elmer Fudd.  I know she’s the bad guy, but it’s still wrong on a level that exceeds that.  I’m just going to put the clip here.  You know what you’ll see.
 That’s about it.  I can’t think of anything else.  Oh, right.  The laugh-out-loud crazy part.

Well, remember in the fairy tale when the Prince and his servants are carrying away the lifeless body of Snow White (super creepy, but not the point this time).  Then one of the servants trips which causes Snow White to cough up the pieceof apple caught in her throat which allows her to return to the land of the living.  Well, in this version her glass coffin is being carted away through a blizzard.  A tree falls in front of the wagon causing the horses to rear and the glass coffin to slide off the wagon.  The jolt then causes Snow White to cough up the most badly rendered apple core you’ve ever seen, which doesn’t just fall but flies into the air, shoots toward the palace and into the Queen’s window where it strikes the sleeping Queen on the head.  I am not even kidding.  I did a double-take when I first saw it.  It’s in this clip.  Give it a look.
 So, while this is a flawed movie, it’s also an interesting one.  I’d suggest seeing it just to see all the little details they stuck to as well as the ridiculous apple core scene.  You’re just going to have to sit through some bad musical numbers along the way.
Until next time.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Folk Tale Secret Stash: The Flute


This Folk Tale Secret Stash is going to be a little bit different.  It’s going to highlight a less well-known folk tale (at least in America), but it’s also going to focus on a specific topic.

But first, the story.

The story of “The Flute” is a Japanese folk tale about a man from Yedo who loses his wife and remarries to another woman.  However, the man doesn’t know that his new wife is vile and black-hearted and that she holds a particular hatred for the man’s young daughter Oyone.  The day comes when the man is set to take a long trip to Kyoto, one set to last for months.  Before he goes, Oyone gives him a small flute made of bamboo.  While in Kyoto, he gets wrapped up in his life and work there and forgets all about the little flute.  Then one day, it falls out of the sleeve of one of his kimonos.  When he plays the flute he hears the voice of his daughter saying “Come back to Yedo.  Come back to Yedo.”  Feeling a great sense of foreboding, the man rushed back to Yedo as fast as he could.  When he met with his wife he asked where his child was, but she tried to elude his question.  Finally, she answered “In the bamboo grove”.  The man went to the bamboo grove and searched but couldn’t find her.  Then he put the flute to his lips and played.  From the flute came his child’s voice saying this: “Father, dear father, my wicked stepmother killed me.  Three moons since she killed me.  She buried me in the clearing of the bamboo grove.  You may find my bones.  As for me, you will never see me anymore- you will never see me more . . .”  The man then took his sword and avenged his child on his murderous wife.  Then he dressed himself in the manner of a pilgrim and undertook a journey to all the holy places in Japan.  And for the rest of his life he carried that bamboo flute with him.
I usually don’t give away endings like that.  However, this time I had to do it.  You see, that’s what we’re going to talk about here.  Endings and how they work in fairy tales and what they contribute.

I find that Japanese folk tales have a real way with unhappy endings.  There’s a strange sense of acceptance that comes from them.  Even when it seems like certain things are left unfinished.  The thing is that there’s a certain mode of thought in Japanese culture, possibly because of spiritual traditions, that acknowledges the impermanence of things.  Many things in this world are fleeting and that’s just part of life.

We tend to fuss about the concept of endings in fairy tales.  The concept of the “happy ending” and the phrase “happily ever after” loom large over the concept of the fairy tale.  When people try to play up the fact that European fairy tales, mainly the Grimm ones, people have a tendency of saying how there “weren’t as many happy endings as you think” or something like that.

How much does an ending contribute to a story’s tone?

Now, there are two stories from the Grimms’ collection that kind of remind me of “The Flute”.  One, with its music from beyond the grave is “The Singing Bone”.  The other, because of its murderous stepmother is “The Juniper Tree”.  These are two of the more infamous stories coming out of Grimm.  “The Singing Bone” is the story of one man who kills his younger brother and marries the princess that had been promised to him.  The crime goes undiscovered for years until a shepherd finds one of the younger brother’s bones and carves it into a mouthpiece for his horn.  When he plays, the horn tells the whole story of the crime that was committed.  The shepherd brings the horn before the king, who understands the bone’s song and has the older brother executed as punishment.  The younger brother’s bones are dug up and buried in a churchyard.  “The Juniper Tree” is the story of a stepmother who kills her stepson, pins blame for the crime on her own daughter and makes blood puddings out of the body and feeds them to her husband.  The murdered boy then comes back as a bird out of the magical juniper tree, gives gifts to his father and sister and kills his stepmother.  The bird then turns back into a boy.
So, we have two tales here filled with murder and mayhem.  Yet, in a way they both have happy, or at least, positive endings.  In “The Singing Bone” the younger brother is still dead, but for a little while it seems like the older brother is going to get away with it.  In the end, it’s at least nice to see the crime exposed and justice carried out.  “The Juniper Tree” on the other hand, returns the murdered boy to life after all the murder has been done.  Then we compare them to “The Flute” which has a negative ending, but to me doesn’t feel as dark or troubling as either of those other tales.
I think the problem we have when we approach folk and fairy tales is that they’re so often reduced down to a dichotomy of tone.  Stories get classified as either “light” or “dark”.  However, there is such a range of emotion to be felt in these stories.  “The Singing Bone” is shocking at the point where the older brother kills the younger one.  However, there’s a feeling of righteous triumph when the killer is exposed and punished for his crimes.  “The Juniper Tree” feels shocking throughout but then tries to at least end on a high note by bringing the murdered victim back to life.  “The Flute”, however, is just sad.
The death of the daughter feels like it’s being built to from the beginning, so it doesn’t feel particularly shocking.  The vengeance taken on the stepmother also isn’t shocking, because in this particular story from this particular time and culture, it seems like the only possible punishment.  In the end, you’re only left with the father and his broken heart as he begins his pilgrimage.
I think that stories are more than their endings.  Summing them up as “light” or “dark” or categorizing them because they have a “happy ending” or “unhappy ending”, just feels kind of limiting.

If you’d like to read “The Flute” and other Japanese fairy tales, you can find them on Fairytalez.com along with stories from a number of other public domain texts.  Until next time . . . well, let’s just say this definitely isn’t the end. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Fantasy Literature Rewind: Mary Poppins.


You feel that?  The wind just changed!  That means it’s time to talk about the one and only Mary Poppins.

Now, this is another one that’s not a fairy tale.  However, it is fairy tale adjacent in a number of places.  I also realize that this is a subject that can be a bit loaded when it comes to adaptation, the wishes of the original author and what the limits should be for what an estate can do with a property after the author dies.  But we’ll have to save our thoughts on that for the end.

Let’s start with some background.  Mary Poppins is the star of a series of books by author P.L. Travers.  There are eight books in the series, the first one published in 1934 and the last in 1988.  The books revolve around the various exploits of mysterious and magical nanny Mary Poppins as she cares for the four, later five, Banks children.  I have read four of the eight books written by Travers (coincidentally, these are the four that were written before Disney made their famous film version).  They are, in order: Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins Comes Back, Mary Poppins Opens the Door and Mary Poppins in the Park.
Mary Poppins admiring her reflection.
Mary Poppins as a character might be a little bit different than you’d expect if you only know the Julie Andrews version.  She’s a strict, no nonsense nanny who doesn’t much appreciate disobedience, lollygagging or back-talk.  She’s described as having shiny black hair and blue eyes and is said to look like “a Dutch doll”.  She must have been fond of these doll-like looks, because she is also described as extremely vain.  She loves to admire herself in mirrors.  So, what’s the big deal about this strict, no-nonsense narcissist?  Well, she’s magic.  If you saw the Disney movie, you probably expected that.  However, it’s not just that she’s magic, it’s that everything around her is as well.  Wherever Mary seems to take the Banks children (Jane, Michael, John, Barbara and little Annabel), the children and the reader seem to get a glimpse into a magical world that exists hidden within our own.  They might go to a gingerbread shop where the foil stars they decorate the gingerbread with are actual stars.  A statue in the park may come to life.  Everyone’s shadow may run off to a Halloween dance.  The balloon lady in the park may sell you a magic balloon that takes you flying.  Or you may find out that the lazy servant that works for your family is actually the Dirty Rascal of nursery rhyme fame (“I’m the king of the castle and you’re the Dirty Rascal”).  Whether or not Mary Poppins seems to have any control over these events varies.  Sometimes she brings the children right into the path of the magical happenings and other times the magic finds her and she gets rather perturbed by it.  However these magical things show up, it always feels like the magic was always there, but somehow no one could see it before.  Either way, don’t ask Mary Poppins herself about it because she will deny everything and act like she’s never been so insulted in all her life.
Mary Poppins with Jane and Michael.
Now, here’s the thing about Mary Poppins’s tight-lipped nature.  It kind of gives her an air of mystery.  Every magical person she meets seems to know and respect her (well, barring the Dirty Rascal when it comes to respect).  Sometimes they even suggest that Mary is somehow special among them.  Not like a queen or an official of any kind.  Just special by the virtue that she’s Mary Poppins.  However, Mary never explains what kind of past she has with these characters.  In fact, she never explains anything.  So, at least if you’re like me, you find yourself wondering who she is and where she comes from.
Tea with Mary's uncle, Mr. Albert Wigg
None of the books have an overarching story.  Instead, they contain a number of self-contained short stories.  However, there is something of a pattern to the books.  All the books I read had a story in which they visit one of Mary’s relatives.  All of them had one in which Jane and Michael had to sneak out after dark in order to see what Mary Poppins was doing on her night off.  All of them had a story in which Mary Poppins tells the children a story that relates to some strange event that just happened.  Almost all of them have at least one story that takes place on a holiday, and the books also had stories in which either Jane or Michael were in a bad mood and were acting out on it.  There were also Mary Poppins’s rather spectacular entrances and exits, though Travers stopped writing those after the third book because, to paraphrase a quote from her, she cannot be forever coming and going.  However, in between the formulaic bits, sometimes there’s something rather sad or beautiful.  I’m reminded of a story in the first book in which Jane and Michael go off to a party and the twin babies John and Barbara are left with Mary Poppins.  What we find out is that John and Barbara can speak in their way and they can understand the languages of everything else: the starling and the wind and the sunlight and many other things.  They also think grown-ups are quite stupid because they can’t.  We also find out they understand because they are so young and that everyone can understand those things up until their first birthday.  Everyone forgets at that point whether they want too or not.  Everyone except Mary Poppins, the Great Exception.  Sure enough, a few months later, the starling finds that John and Barbara are no longer able to understand him.  The simple idea of being able to understand the language of everything is kind of beautiful, and the inevitability of losing it is rather sad.  There are also some choice quotes that have a sort of depth and beauty to them.  Another story finds Jane and Michael sneaking out to the zoo at night where they meet a hamadryad (i.e. a cobra) who tells them this: “We are all made of the same stuff, remember, we of the Jungle, you of the City.  The same substance composes us- the tree overhead, the stone beneath us, the bird, the beast, the star- we are all one, all moving to the same end.  Remember that when you no longer remember me, my child.”  It makes some sense, though.  Travers was rather fascinated with the symbolism and metaphor that’s often seen in fairy tales and myths.  The supposed hidden depths in simple stories.  Much of her later work focused on it.  It finds its way into Mary Poppins too.  In Mary Poppins in the Park there’s a story in which Jane and Michael meet three princes who escape from The Silver Fairy Book (clearly a fictitious Andrew Lang collection).  They and their pet unicorn encounter some trouble from various people, the park keeper, the policeman, the zoo keeper and the curator of the museum.  However, when the adults finally realize who the princes are their attitude changes.  They start talking about how they had once known them when they were little children and had lost track of them.  This makes sense, because they would have read that fairy tale a fairly long time ago when they were children.  However, there’s another layer to this.  The princes’ names are Florimond, Veritain and Amor.  Loosely translated, their names mean Beauty, Truth and Love.  The adults knew beauty, truth and love as children but lost contact with it as they grew up.  That’s kind of a big metaphor right there.

It’s stuff like this that didn’t make it into Mary Poppins’s more famous cinematic adaptation.  The metaphorical aspects are lost.  The idea of the magic always being there just beyond the surface layer is lost.  The idea that babies know the secrets of the universe but they can’t tell you is lost (as are the characters of John and Barbara entirely).  However, it kind of makes sense when you consider the fact that in being translated from book to movie, it was also translated from being a piece of European fantasy to a piece of American fantasy.  Now, nothing against American fantasy.  American fantasy stories have their own strengths.  For example, American fantasy stories tend to be a lot more free from the constraints of social class which seeps into a lot of European fantasy stories.  We’ll put the metaphor issue aside for now, because a lot of that comes down to individual perception.  However, the other issue still stands.  European and particularly English fantasy stories have more a sense of “deep magic” to them.  The feeling that the magic is there, in the hills and the stones and the trees and you could see it if you just had the means.  Their ancestors could access it, so why can’t they?  American fantasy, maybe because it’s a newish country and maybe because it’s a colonized country, generally doesn’t have that.

I should mention that not everything in these books is so great by modern standards.  There’s some casual racism thrown around.  Mary Poppins sometimes tells Michael that he shouldn’t “act like a red Indian” when he’s misbehaving.  In fact, one of the stories in the first book had suck overt racism that it had to be changed (I’ve read an earlier edition too).  A story that consisted of Mary and the children traveling around the world with a magic compass and meeting an Eskimo (now more appropriately called an Inuit, but Travers’s words, not mine), an African tribesman, a Mandarin and a "red Indian" (again, not my words) got turned into a trip to meet a polar bear, a macaw, a panda and a dolphin instead.
Mary Poppins descends on a kite string
However, back to the issue of the Disney movie.  I think maybe it’s time to address that particular elephant in the room.  Mary Poppins Returns comes out this week and the question comes up: should this movie have been made?  It’s not a secret that P.L. Travers hated the original Mary Poppins movie.  Absolutely hated it.  She hated it so much that she put a stipulation in her will that Mary Poppins should never be made into a movie again.  However, years after her death, Disney goes to the Travers estate and despite that stipulation makes a deal to create a sequel.  On one hand, Travers made it very explicit that she didn’t want her character used in another movie.  On the other hand, the Travers estate was essentially sitting on an intellectual property that has a lot of potential.  Sure, the books might still sell okay.  However, licensing is currently the biggest way to make money from an IP, especially children’s characters.  There’s also the fact that the damage has already been done.  The original movie is already more famous than the books. Looking back at the original attempt by Disney and Travers, it’s hard to tell who was being more unfair.  Sure, Disney changed a lot of things that Travers didn’t want changed.  That’s nothing new.  Hollywood does that all the time and it sucks.  But Travers didn’t come out smelling like a rose either.  She was a notoriously touchy, anxious woman who had a lot of baggage in her past.  She would hand out seemingly arbitrary rules to the filmmakers like “Mary Poppins should never wear red”.  One wonders if maybe she were trying to find a way to keep the movie from being made while simultaneously accepting Disney’s money (she was in financial straits at the time).  And to some extent, Travers’s stipulation just feels like a stall anyway.  In the long run (a very, VERY long run thanks to Disney, but that’s another story) the character and her stories will enter the public domain eventually and Poppins is well-known and beloved enough that people will make movies about her.  Some will draw on the Disney interpretation.  Others will try hard to stick to “the author’s original vision” and use it as a selling point.  But barring major law changes or some kind of cataclysm, it’s likely to happen.

Mary Poppins Returns comes out and though part of me thinks I shouldn’t see it because of Travers’s wishes, my curiosity is piqued and won’t leave me alone.  I want to see what parts of these four books make it into the movie.  I’m even more curious after seeing the trailers, which show that Emily Blunt has more of a handle on the literary Mary Poppins’s attitude and personality than Andrews did (you have to love that “damn, I look good” look Blunt gives to the mirror in that one part).  I’m also not expecting Travers’s wishes to stop anyone else from  seeing Mary Poppins Returns, but if you’re going to see the movie you should also check out the books.  I’m not going to say they’re “practically perfect in every way”, but they’re pretty good and deserve a read.