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Saturday, August 25, 2012


The pages of a fairy-tale book turn, and a picture comes to life, in color, as we are taken, magically, into once up a time…somewhere.  We are flown into The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad with a bee’s-eye view, through the hexagonal lenses of…you guessed it…a bee.  Instead of a “fly on the wall,” we are a “bee in flight” just as objectively viewing the strange new world around us.  Through a forest and into a tree (yes, a tree), we begin our journey.

At the end of the bee’s journey is a man in lavish dress with the pointed ears of…you guessed it again…an elf.  He sits impatiently at the bedside of an older woman who is annoyed by his presence and uninterested in what he has to say.  The man is Himo (Fernando Noor), and the woman is the half-elven, half-human Tallulah (Melissa Malan).  Tallulah is on her deathbed (as she has been for the last fifty years), and Himo seems to anticipate her death more than dread it.  “Why?” you ask.  Although a fifty-year-long death could be reason enough, that’s not it.  As the title suggests, Tallulah is a heroine.  She has, in her long life, seen all manner of dangers and adventure—fighting dragons, bandits, and assassins, and saving damsels in distress.  All this she did while Himo lived in her shadow as nothing to be known for or remembered.  Are we talking about the ingredients for one jealous elven husband?  Is there a great man behind this this great woman?  What will Himo do to get what he wants, and what will Tallulah do to stop him?  I’m not telling, but you can imagine the possibilities for this one.

“It must be nice to have such a legacy….something that’s going to live on past you.” ~ Himo

My favorite scene in the movie begins at the four-minute/forty-six second mark.  Himo and Tallulah are outside near a waterfall, in a flashback from the past, exchanging affections.  This is an absolutely beautiful scene, with Melissa Malan looking stunning as her elven character, complete with pointed ears and a pixie smile. Malan is an actress with talent matched only by her beauty, and she shows both here to full effect. I, for one, was captivated by her wide-eyed spirit of performance; the energy in her personality radiates from her and brightens the movie beyond boundaries.  Melissa convinced me that she was Tallulah, with all the best that paramours could offer a mate.  Her eye contact, loving glances, and focus on Himo were spot on!  I often see actors who don’t show the commitment to a part that makes a character believable.  In The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad, Melissa Malan does the opposite of that in a most crucial scene. She shows us who Tallulah really is, letting her character shine through; she makes her familiar and also human, adding more to what makes the movie a success—realism in a fantasy story, grounding it in experiences we know.  Perfect!

 “We’ll never get old, because you love me.” ~ Tallulah
This brings me to Melissa Malan in general and in this fairy tale again.  Malan is an actress I have previously seen in a short horror film called The Mockingbird.  In it, she plays a woman confined to her bed, after being paralyzed in a car accident.  In The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad, Malan again plays a woman confined to her bed, in most scenes.  In each movie, because of Malan’s talent, a bedridden character is brought to life with more energy and depth than most characters walking on two legs.  With expressions and words alone, she gives Tallulah strength as a heroine, even on her deathbed.  I do not give compliments like this liberally; Malan, however, deserves the compliments, no matter how sparingly I use them.  As in The Mockingbird, Malan makes an easily forgettable character one to remember!

Fernando Noor is an award-winning actor, writer, producer, and voice over artist. I had not seen his work before; however, he is one I will look for in the future.  As “The Cad”, Noor is the personification of the word’s definition—“A man who behaves dishonorably, especially toward a woman.”  He is this personification not just because we know what he’s thinking as Himo, but because of what Noor does as Himo…and yes…how he acts—as an actor, that is.  Noor projects coldness with his voice and sly detachment in his disdainful looks.  Even his posture and movements are subtly used as body language to complete the role. Noor let’s the viewer make no mistake in understanding his character, superficially as well as below the surface.  When Tallulah is still devoted and loving, Noor is her antithesis, projecting selfishness to please himself, totally believable in his part.  Tallulah’s love, contrasted with Himo’s lack of it, play off one another perfectly to set the movie’s tone.  Noor skillfully makes his character one we dislike, but remember all the more for disliking.  This, ironically, makes The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad one we can like all the more for disliking Himo.  As for what Himo wants as much as he wants her death, I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself.

Fernando Noor as Himo
 As for other actors, we also have Tristan Scott-Behrends and Malia Miglino.  Behrends is “The Doctor” and plays the part as one who cares little to nothing about his patient.  He considers half-humans to be inferior to full-blooded elves, and shows it with enough arrogance and detachment to make it believable.  You might say that Behrends plays the ultimate racist in a fantasy world—a doctor whose hyppocratic oath didn’t include equality; he boldly practices medicine with bigotry in his words, if not in his actions.  Behrends’ characters, as he well plays it, adds an extra element of social commentary making it decidedly more than a fairy tale, carrying over to the world of humans as much as elves.
I understand that we as the Elven race get frustrated with the lifespans of…lesser races.” ~ The Doctor
Malia Miglino has the minimal but essential part of the sexy nurse, and she does exactly that…very well!  Miglino is the current object of Himo’s affections, and no doubt Tallulah’s replacement; in her leather boots (the first we see of her) and her red elven nurse outfit, Miglino gets nearly as much attention as most other characters.  Even in her brief screen time, Miglino efficiently communicates her character to the audience, making a stereotype something more original, and surely memorable. (I look forward to seeing movies in the future, with Miglino in a lead role.) Miglino’s version of a temptress brings out more of Himo’s character, making him uncomfortably as much human as elf; his ogling flirtation with her is part of what shows, early on, his more despicable qualities.  After all, he is still married to Tallulah, and she is still on her deathbed.  How dare he do that!

Before I move on, let us stop and consider that last thought one more time, at least to better understand Himo, and possibly even ourselves—“How dare he do that!”  Yes, at first, we think, on impulse, in moral high gear, that Himo has no business having lecherous elven thoughts, while married, with his wife on her deathbed no less.  Yes, it’s easy to think it, say it, and act as though we ourselves would never do it.  However, before you judge too quickly (even an elf), consider this…just for a moment.  Tallulah has been dying for fifty years; count them slowly.  This sexy nurse is someone Himo’s been seeing, no doubt, for a seriously long time (maybe even fifty years)—parading around in front of him in her sexy elven boots, sneaking beautiful glances, slipping him amorous letters.  Yes, she’s also been giving shots, changing IVs, bringing medicine, and doing all other non-sexy things nurses do.  But, even doing non-sexy things, a nurse like this could distract even the best of elves…and humans!  No, I don’t have a dying half-human wife, cared for by a sexy elven nurse, but I understand temptation and how it works to change the best of us. So, in a way, I’ll defend Himo, as much as say why he’s despicable.  Yes, consider all that for just a moment, at least, seeing yet more in this most unique of tales. Just like in the fairy tales of Grimm, there’s far more than what we see on the surface–something pulling us under with it. Take a deeper look, then move right along.  How dare he do that!

Now with that over…for now…let’s consider how low-budget fantasy films are especially difficult to do.  Other genres—drama, action, adventure, mystery, and even horror—are easier, at least because they can happen anywhere, as is, without modifying the normal environment.  Fantasy, on the other hand, requires another world that must be created, often from scratch, often with budgets exceeding what is available.  I have the greatest respect for independent film directors who even attempt anything so ambitious.  After seeing, The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad, I have an even greater respect for such directors.

A painting of a younger Tallulah, appropriately called the “Tallulah Pastel” (by Elizabeth Lee)

This brings me to the ever-talented (and always beautiful) Claire Wasmund–an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker. Her written work has appeared in nationally-published journals, and her film work has been a part of over 30 film festivals! In The Heroine & the Cad, Wasmund has written, created, and filmed a world that is a gem of a fantasy to see. With Wasmund’s directing talents, this new tale earns a respectable place as a new classic in a collection of its own.  The richness of colors, contrasts, focus, lighting, and camera angles all work together, creating a place we can imagine elves would inhabit.  Wasmund makes the technical aspects subtle to our senses and all the more natural on screen.  Small but opulent sets make all that’s needed, effectively, on a limited budget; I never found myself wanting to see more. Wasmund wisely kept characters at the center, using sets to support the story rather than carry it.  As the writer and director, Wasmund has taken her fairy tale from the page to the screen, beyond the limits of its budget. Such spirit, dedication despite obstacles, and ultimate achievement is what I most applaud in fimmaking. With such challenges in the fantasy genre, it’s easy to give up and difficult to succeed; to Wasmund, I give a standing ovation for success!

Of course, music can either make or break a fairy tale; music sets the mood, helps to establish the setting, and, if done well, helps the mind slip away into faraway lands and mythic places.  The original music composed by Brandon K. Verrett certainly makes The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad.  From the title page of the fairy tale book, as it begins, we hear what we expect–soft, light, magical music, with lilting tones carrying us with it, leaving the real world behind.

Production designers, art directors, special effects artists, costume designers, and jewelry coordinators are often overlooked in reviews. However, in a film like this, they must be recognized and applauded as well. The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad could not have done without the production design of Lex Benedict, Greg Cruser, Fernando Noor, and Claire Wasmund; it could not have done without the art direction by Caley Bisson; it could not have done without the beautiful “Tallulah Pastel” by Elizabeth Lee; it could not have done without the special effects by Greg Cruser, the sumptuous costumes by Lex Benedict, the jewelry by Betsey Benedict, or the soprano Ashley Burkett. Finally, but far from least, it could never have done without the special effects makeup by Laura Lieffring and Tokiko Inoue.  Yes, in this movie, all of these talented people came together to produce one movie that stands out in its indie genre, well in front of any I’ve seen before.

As a great example, we have the special effects makeup of Laura Lieffring and Tokiko Inoue. If I didn’t know Melissa Malan was such a beautiful young woman, I would actually think she was a beautiful but much older woman.  The makeup effects here are simply awesome!  With the high-definition image, it is especially important for effects to stand up to scrutiny; Laura Lieffring and Tokiko Inoue have made sure that they do. Without this effect alone, there would have been trouble once upon a time, too many times for success. Here, however, it’s done perfectly!

Adding to makeup accolades, I must also compliment the elf ears.  Even in the most brightly-lit, high definition, these ears looked like the real deal.  And, in a movie about elves, bad ears could ruin everything.  Once again, Laura Lieffring and Tokiko Inoue, operating on a lower budget, save the show, with the best ears I’ve seen so far in a movie about elves–bar none!

It is also interesting that, in the opening credits, the names of the cast and crew are not the names that appear in the credits for the movie elsewhere. Actors have names such as Lolindir Eledhwen, Ireth Elensar, and Ireth Fefala; the cinematographer is Natulcien Calaelen, and the director is Idril Seregon.  (Yeah, we know it’s you anyway, Claire.) The only reason for this I can imagine is one I really like. To further immerse the story in the fairy tale world, these are Elvin names, as if the elves are really producing it. Nice touch!

What’s this fairy tale about overall?  It’s about the cruelty of time, as it affects relationships, love, and life in general–how people (and even elves), in time, fall out of love for reasons that love should prevent. Such is the ironic nature of love, especially when only one has fallen out of it. Those who made the film boil it down to what is likely the most concise and accurate: [It] “deals with time’s longest running battle: the power struggle between couples.”  I agree!  And, this quote by Henry Louis Mencken (included at the movie’s end)  is perhaps the best way to point it out: “Love is like war; very easy to begin, but very hard to stop” Indeed it is!

“What’s the moral to this fairy tale?” you ask.  It could be all or any of a number I can imagine.  It is an aspect of all happiness to suppose that we deserve it, as supposed by Himo.  But, ultimately here, “The [heroine] is brave in deeds as well as words.” The ironic self-destruction that comes to those who are greedy and superficial is another message that is obvious.  Underestimating those more powerful is one of the worst mistakes we can make.
“Boom. Magic.” ~ Tallulah
The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad has already been selected to screen at a number of film festivals; it’s also been nominated for as many awards, including best make-up, costumes, and art direction.  I have a feeling it will receive many more before it’s over.  Recently, I read an interview with Claire Wasmund in which she was asked what inspired her to become a filmmaker. “An overwhelming desire for immortality,” was Claire’s answer. I like that. It’s the reason I do what I do too. Living on in the legacy we leave is the best any of us can do to be immortal. With her latest film, Claire is already well on her way to that immortality.

The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad is a beautiful new fairy tale, told with all the feeling and effect of an older classic–a fifteen minute short film, with all the punch of a longer feature.  It was produced by a cast and crew totally dedicated to the work and bound for the success they achieved.  Unlike youth and sometimes love, this one is sure to stand the test of time. :) 

Visit The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad blogspot:

See and “Like” The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad on Facebook by clicking here!

Check out Claire Wasmund on Twitter too–a great one to follow! @ClaireLWasmund

T.G.C. Films and Longlost Pictures present The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad, Starring Fernando Noor, Melissa Malan, Tristan Scott-Behrends, and Malia Miglino, Written and Directed by Claire Wasmund, Story by Claire Wasmund and Fernando Noor, Edited by Longlost Pictures (Lex Benedict and Greg Cruser), Original music composed by Brandon K. Verrett, Production Design by Lex Benedict, Greg Cruser, Fernando Noor, and Claire Wasmund, Art Direction by Caley Bisson, “Tallulah Pastel” by Elizabeth Lee, Special Effects by Greg Cruser,  Costumes by Lex Benedict, Jewelry by Betsey Benedict, Special Effects Makeup by Laura Lieffring and Tokiko Inoue, Music Featuring Soprano Ashley Burkett

Watch the demo reel of Claire Wasmund’s awesome directing work below! Included are scenes from The Tale of the Heroine & the Cad. In just under five minutes, it’s easy to see the magic in all of Claire’s work. Enjoy! :)

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