Saturday, June 30, 2012

Should you see Ted?: A Brief Quiz

1. Do you like Family Guy? This should be pretty much a no-brainer, as the driving creative force behind the Fox show, which enjoys a following rather cultish in its devotion, and the film are the same. That also means you best like the episodic, parodic, and absurdist style and content of the animated series, as the same methodology is at play in Ted. They try to impose a "plot" to stitch together the comedic bits, but trust me, they shouldn't have.

2. Do you like Team America: World Police? Do you find objects usually associated with children--puppets, say, or teddy bears-- doing adult things like swearing and snorting coke and banging chicks inherently funny? Like, just the idea of it? Then buy your ticket for Ted today.

3. Do you like Flash Gordon? Just trust me.

4. Do you like I Love the '80s? Ted is packed with references to '80s culture, both visual and material. Though not at all integral to the "plot," there is a certain pleasurable nostalgic frisson in seeing Tiffany and a Darth Vader Action Figure Carry Case again.

Though I would answer yes to only one of the above questions, Ted still made me laugh periodically. The film tries to marry a literalized Apatovian plot (man-child must put away childish things to please/keep mature, career-oriented girlfriend) with a sensibility a little too Sandlerian for my taste (no one ever takes a literal shit on the floor in a Judd Apatow movie). And if nothing else, it's fun to hear Marky Mark really explore the space with his Boston accent.

"Triangle" (Buffy 5.11): His power is in his, ahem, hammer

Our first episode in a post-Riley world is a comic one, which, as Jenn notes, is a little jarring considering the pain parade of "Into the Woods." But I think that it is trying at least to continue the narrative exploration of how who we were in the past inflects how we love in the present. And if you don't buy that, there's at least a pretty hilarious embodiment of Anya's vengeance demon origin story. So here's the Buffy guide to dealing with the elephant-sized troll in the room.

DO realize that the past isn't dead; it's not even past. I think Faulkner would have liked this episode. The eponymous triangle is referring to Anya/Xander/Willow, which isn't a traditional love triangle, not least because, as Willow points out, "Hello, gay now." But Anya is hyper-aware that Xander's last serious relationship with Cordelia failed because he cheated with Willow. And Willow is similarly super-conscious that Anya used to make her living by taking a personal interest in the mental and physical anguish of a series of unlucky lovers.

Xander is mainly just focusing on his own discomfort.

So they snipe and snap and muddle up one of Willow's spells but good.

DON'T ignore the metaphor in the room. It eats babies. Passive aggression is going to be no good against Olaf, the troll that was imprisoned in a crystal Willow was magicking. He also happens to be Anya's first act of vengeance, so successful that D'hofryn came a-calling. Olaf, I must say, is rad. Jane Espenson wrote this episode, and she has a grand time with Olaf's booming Viking pronouncements and requests for babies to eat. (Spike's response: "I don't know, the hospital?") He's got all of Thor's entitled arrogance,

but not so much Hemsworth's eyes or abs.

I think Olaf is an embodiment of the way our past relationships can come crashing into our present ones, wreaking all sorts of havoc, especially when we're feeling vulnerable, or scared, or rejected. Xander and Anya open the episode wondering if Buffy has a problem, since Angel left too. This is, of course, utter bullshit (as Jenn puts it, the problem is not with the women but the men), but I do think it's what the episode is trying to explore thematically. Willow and Anya are answering for the romantic choices they've made in the past, and Spike is struggling with his feelings for Buffy, knowing they are, shall we say, unlikely to be requited considering his past (he tried to kill her and all her friends for Drusilla).

DO go outside your comfort zone. In order to defeat Olaf, Willow teams up with Anya.

Not happily, but they do it.

However, the episode also shows Spike and Xander sharing a beer and a game of pool,

manfully clutching their pool cues the whole time,

and Buffy and Tara talking boys and school.

Nice pigtails, Buff!

These dyads are more likely to be found in slash fanfic than the series up to this point, but they allow for some fun revelations about each character, because different people bring out different sides of your personality. Which is why, in terms of the reading I'm building, Olaf can be vanquished (with the help of some sublimated Buffy rage as well--Jenn reminds us to watch this tendency towards violence to deal with emotional pain). His power is destructive but ultimately given to him by Anya (the hammer), and she can take it away as well. Or have Buffy do it. Whatever. Who Anya was with Olaf (and who Xander was with Willow, Buffy with Angel, even Spike with Dru) informs but does not determine who or how they will be in their current (or future) relationships. For good or ill. And in season 6 it's mostly for ill, but let's think about that tomorrow.

Spike beating the shit out of his Buffy-quin, for example, is not a great sign.
Also, Dawn finds out she's the key.

We don't really get it either, sweetheart.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Adaptation Angst: The Leftovers

Oh, for Christ's sake. According to io9, Damon "never elucidate when you might obfuscate" Lindelof is in talks to adapt Tom Perrotta's novel The Leftovers for an HBO series. Usually the phrase "HBO series" connected with any of my favorite novels is enough to make me all giddy-like. But the phrase "Damon Lindelof" is the antidote to my giddiness, especially when dealing with material as delicate and sadly strange as that found in Perrotta's novel.

The Leftovers was sort of marketed as a "what happens after the Rapture" novel, but that's not what it's truly about. In fact, there is no official explanation, ecumenical or otherwise, for what causes a sizable majority of the population of the planet to disappear one October afternoon. I imagine this is where some genius in production decided to bring in former Lostie, current Promethean Lindelof. "Oooh," I picture said exec thinking to him/herself, "imagine the convoluted, contradictory, and ultimately unsatisfying theories Damon Lindelof could construct around such an inexplicable event!"

Problem is, the point of the book is in no way to explain the disappearance. Instead, and this should come as no surprise to anyone who has read or seen the excellent adaptation of Perrotta's earlier novel Little Children, the story is supremely concerned with how people cope with an apocalyptic trauma. That is, any trauma that shocks the human consciousness with an unbearable loss. That is, any trauma. The "rapture" is the lens not the image. Lost and Prometheus haven't given me the utmost confidence that Lindelof knows the difference.

Angst level: 9

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter: A film divided against itself

And Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson seems so cool.
My Twitter friendly review of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is: "It would be somewhat acceptable if it were not at all about Abraham Lincoln." Then you would just be left with some (still cool to me) nineteenth-century Matrix-esque vamp slaying with a silver-dipped axe (thought silver was anti-werewolf?-- whatever) and the film could have jettisoned its sloppy, irresponsible, and straight-up offensive treatment of abolitionism and the Gettysburg dead.

Abe suffers from what I've termed the "Captain America Problem" (CAP!) because, well, I had a problem with a scene in Captain America. One moment in last summer's film shows Cap shield slinging in a snow covered forest during World War II. Now, maybe it was because I had just seen Band of Brothers, but for me, snow covered forests [plus] World War II [equals] The Battle of the Bulge where thousands of Allied soldiers slowly froze and starved when they weren't being, you know, blown up, trying to hold the line. I couldn't help but think that injecting a fantastical savior into a very real battle where very real people endured very real losses cheapened and sanitized the suffering. But that was just one scene. Abe takes the CAP and makes it a foundational narrative component of the film.

I knew I was in for trouble when, in an opening scene of voiceover exposition that lays down the (underdeveloped and incomplete) account that hey, there are vampires in America, a throwaway line mentions that said vamps decimated Native Americans. Um, well, unless they tricked the European settlers into all those massacres and land grabs, that sounds a bit like blaming the genocide on vampires instead of, you know, THE HUMANS WHO ACTUALLY DID IT. And that was just the beginning.

Because the protagonist is Abraham Lincoln, and the film retains just enough "actual history" to keep the character recognizable, the abolitionist movement and the Civil War loom large. And because the script is committed to collapsing a vampire vs. human war for dominance over America into the pro- vs. anti-slavery conflict that exploded into the Civil War, the latter traumas are reduced to narrative pawns. Vampires are pro-slavery because of a steady food supply, and the Confederates who eventually ally with them do so out of, well, who knows. Abolitionists, including, may God forgive screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, Harriet Tubman, are conscripted into the fight against vampires because that's so much more important than, you know, ending chattel slavery and liberating millions of human beings. The implicit argument that vampires, not people, were ultimately accountable for supporting and perpetuating institutionalized slavery culminates in the scene when the slaughter at Gettysburg is ret-conned to argue that vampires were responsible for the tens of thousands of Union dead. It tasked me. Sort of like how Kirk tasked Khan.

Sci-fi and fantasy texts are not only capable of, but I would argue, uniquely suited to, making cogent and powerful arguments about socio-political injustices. See Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, X:Men, etc., etc., etc. And it is not inherently dangerous or disrespectful to fictionalize history. See Beloved, Kindred, V., etc., etc., etc. But when historical traumas become glibly instrumentalized to enable big explosions and blood-spatter, and an ill-defined supernatural evil substitutes for and glosses over the human actions and rationalizations that enabled and encouraged human suffering, well, that cannot stand.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why We Should Take Nora Ephron Seriously

Yesterday, writer, director, and producer Nora Ephron died at 71. My first thought: Nora Ephron was 71? My second: What a loss. Though her chosen genre--the romcom chick flick--is habitually disregarded and belittled in discussions of "real" cinema (oftentimes by me), the way she wrote about women, and the very fact that she wrote, directed, and produced films centering on a certain sort of female experience at all, makes her a significant figure in recent cinematic history.

Ephron seemed drawn to stories about women whose careers, not merely their jobs, shaped and complicated their inner lives and relationships. This impulse is most disturbingly, and politically, apparent in her Oscar-nominated screenplay for Silkwood, in which Meryl Streep plays a real-life whistleblower at a plutonium plant. In Ephron's telling, Silkwood's decision to become an advocate for herself and her co-workers reverberates through her marriage and her relationship with her best friend. But the way the professional and the personal intersect in female lives is also explored in Heartburn (a deeply autobiographical look at a failing marriage between two successful writers, based on her relationship with Carl Bernstein); Sleepless in Seattle (in which Meg Ryan's columnist character is equally attracted to Tom Hanks's both as a story and as a man); You've Got Mail (Ryan and Hanks again, with Ryan's career as a small bookshop owner in a Barnes & Noble world informing her attraction to Hanks and her current boyfriend); and Julie and Julia, which is at heart about two women finding their calling. Even her (rightly) maligned adaptation of Bewitched hinges on Nicole Kidman's Isabel (the witch) rage at not being taken seriously as an actress. These films take it as a given that what a woman does and how a woman feels are and should be intimately connected.

Additionally, unlike a writer-director like Nancy Meyers, Ephron's heroines are more likely to be situated in a world that is somewhat recognizable to middle-class women. Sure, the apartments are huge and the economic stakes are not desperate, but there is a more reliable connection between the world of the movie and the world of the world. The plot of You've Got Mail depends upon a certain moment in consumer capitalism, and its consequences for small business owners (which is a major element that distinguishes Ephron's script from its source material, The Shop Around the Corner). Hanging Up presciently explored an element of human experience that was unthinkable two generations ago, and is currently, twelve years later, a major sociological concern: children parenting their parents through old age and extended illness. And Julie Powell's economic uncertainty is a constant concern for her in Julie and Julia.

To be sure, Ephron women (and their friends, and their lovers) are white, straight, and relatively rich. Though "can men and women be friends," the question posed by my favorite film of hers, When Harry Met Sally . . ., is still a guaranteed conversation starter, her screenplays don't tend towards the philosophically complex. However, Ephron managed to become a Hollywood triple-threat over the past thirty years in a business that still imagines the default cinematic audience as male. Whatever one feels about the romcom chick flick as a movie fan, I believe there is no Kathryn Bigelow or Kelly Reichardt without the work of Nora Ephron. And if nothing else, she wrote this scene:

Rest in peace, Ms. Ephron.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Bachelorette: Jef the Puppet Master

Yeah, it was just about as horrifying as that 80s flick, too. The brain trust is in Prague, and it's the episode before the always-excruciating hometown visits. Which means: I always root for the ones I think likely to have the most freaksome families. Which means: Team Jef!

Imagine if everyone in his family has hair exactly like this????
But first . . .

The Rozlyn Papa Commemorative Rose: My boy Arie. Remember Rozlyn?

No? Lucky.

She got excoriated for banging a producer during Jake "not as honorable as I initially appeared" Pavelka's season. Shades of Rozlyn haunted Arie's one-on-one date with Emily, as it was revealed that he had dated one of her producers, apparently like a decade ago. Ultimately? A lot of build-up, no drama. After an "off-set" conversation between the three of them (no fair!), all was forgiven, Arie declared his love, and they made out on a ship that oddly had other patrons trying to enjoy their dinner cruise on it.

"Don't mind us, folks."

The Unfortunate Metaphor Rose: Wolf "John." Another one-on-one, totally bereft of even the hint of drama. Whilst walking the Prague streets, the duo come upon some sort of love lock art installation, and, when trying to add the padlock they happened to be carrying to the pile, it, ahem, failed to engage.

Also unfortunate: His suggestion they "push it in together."

Though Wolf tried to redeem himself by telling a story about how his last girlfriend cheated on him "a week after their first anniversary" with "some doctor," the chemistry seemed lacking.

Bright side: At least she didn't send you a "Welcome to Dumpsville, Population: You" text!

The Too Little, Too Late Rose:  Single Dad Doug. During the one group date of the week, the quartet of Emily, Doug, Sean (who pulled an Arie and snuck out to meet her/ make out with her the night before) and Chris the Rage Machine (more on that later) explore a castle. Yes. That's the entirety of their date. Speaking of which, where are the helicopters this season? There hasn't been one goddamn helicopter! Anyway, Emily gets Doug alone, and he acts like a sixth-grader at his first dance. She takes him outside, obviously to dump him, and he kisses her then. Her response? "Thank you for that." Meaning? My decision is solidified.

Don't feel too bad. Apparently, he's been arrested for beating some chick up.

The Being Jef Malkovich Rose: Jef. Obviously. They visit this puppet shop where, doubtlessly, at night all the puppets come to life and bathe the streets of Prague in blood. But for their date, they merely pick puppets that "look like" each other, and then act out a grotesque theatre of the absurd in a nearby library reenacting their relationship. Jef, proving he has the emotional maturity of, well, Doug, can only tell Emily he loves her through the puppet, retreating to "I really like you" when actually speaking as adults do.

The puppet actually has better hair.

Another interesting admission: Jef's parents are "really committed to something in South Carolina" and won't be meeting Emily if she goes to Salt Lake City next week. She will meet his swarm of siblings, however.

The His Secret Is He's Always Angry Rose:  Chris. Ah, Chris. Watching his progressive emotional meltdown during this episode was really the highlight of the night. As he was passed over for a one-on-one, and then watched Sean get the rose on his (unexpectedly) two-on-one, he got more and more twitchy, flushed, and whiny, culminating in the night of the cocktail party, where he was crying, covered in flop-sweat, and pacing back and forth like a caged panther, if panthers weren't cool and beautiful and instead were enormous tools.

If only he had a puppet to help him work through his feelings of jealousy.

Emily's decision to skip the party and send someone home immediately (for which a grateful nation thanks her), amps up his anxiety and rage to 11. He insists on talking to her, manages to keep it together briefly, and she ends up choosing to meet the people who raised such a mass of undiagnosed neuroses, along with Arie and Jef, sending home the (now lone) Wolf.

Next week: Arizona, Utah, and wherever they spawn hulking blond lumberjacks and crazed man-children.

Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Poto and Cabengo as a Reason I’m Not Screwed

By Jonathan Alexandratos
I think I am what I watch.[1]  I mean, not in some terrible way where every degeneracy that projects onto my retinas instantly translates into my next action.[2]  It’s just that: people tell me that they can tell what I’m reading by what I’ve written in a given week.  There are certain stylistic similarities that transfer, subconsciously.[3]  I sometimes wonder if, in the best case, I’m original simply because all of the various components I’ve absorbed have intermingled to the point where no one can discern any individual element, only the odd-looking whole, much like the communal face cloth in my old college dorm.  In the worst case, my A-B-C stands for “Always Be Citing.”[4]
Recently I watched a film by Jean-Pierre Gorin (a director I’ve loved ever since I saw My Crasy Life, perhaps his best work) entitled Poto and Cabengo which got me thinking about all this.  The documentary, released in 1980, observed Grace and Virginia Kennedy, two identical 6-year-old twins, as they communicated in pure idioglossia.  In other words, they spoke in a language they invented.  All the time.  And somehow managed to avoid being in a sequel to The Shining.[5]
The twins were raised in a strangely bi-lingual house.  Their mother spoke a mix of English and German.  Gerlish?  Engman?  Their father spoke English only.  The live-in, maternal grandmother, though, just spoke German.  So the Kennedy twins – who called each other Poto and Cabengo, resulting in the title of the film – grew up surrounded by a bit of, well, creative linguistics.   There were 16 variations, between the girls, for the word “potato.”  “Potatah” was one.  “Putatrah” was another.  And so on.  Since the language was purely oral, variations were easier.[6]  It was also quick-paced and staccato.  Sounds pretty cool, right?  Well, the twins’ doctors thought they were retarded.  So there was that.
And that, to me, is the part of the film that holds up the biggest and most telling mirror to our society.  Were these twins guilty of something we don’t just always do, only perhaps to a lesser extent?  I’ve carried on conversations using random words, simply relying on tones to convey meaning, but that’s still an extreme case.[7]  We’re inventing and reinventing language all the time, and it seems like it’s based on little more than just what sounds awesomeRadGnarlyDelightful.  Like whatever will get us chicks.
Now, in fairness, the doctors in this documentary also indicated the twins had reduced motor function, but it sure seemed as though the fulcrum of their pro-mentally-handicapped argument was the fact that they kinda spoke like Ewoks.[8]  So, with that, I return to my opening statement:
I think I am what I watch.  But I think we all are.  Poto and Cabengo merely represented an exaggerated version of that statement.  I’m not ready to proclaim originality dead, but I’m ready to wonder if, all along, “originality” hasn’t meant what we thought it did.  Maybe originality isn’t an entirely new idea.  Maybe it’s just the cleverest use of a bunch of old ideas.  Like whomever is the keenest wielder of the Glue Gun of Invention is original.  After all, Poto and Cabengo, as Gorin aptly notes, didn’t create their own language.  Even in the “potato” example offered above, one can see that the twins’ “Potatah” is not far removed from our “Potato.”  Yet, the language that Poto and Cabengo spoke still bore the stamp of originality.
Gorin goes out of his way, in fact, to show the audience, in a brief 73 minutes, the individuality and conformity of Poto and Cabengo.  There are a number of sequences where the screen goes black, and all you have is the audio of the twins speaking.  One article postulated that Gorin didn’t have any footage for those scenes, so they were black in forced recognition of his failure as a filmmaker.  But that has to sell short Gorin’s expertise.  He’s a guy that uses the very small to illuminate the very large.  People as community, perhaps a slight ode to his Marxist upbringing.  He and Jean-Luc Godard split because of this.[9]  No, Gorin knew, I’d wager, what he was doing when he made this sound, the sound of both new and old, take center stage in Poto and Cabengo
Is my dilemma, then, so bad?  Maybe, by Poto and Cabengo standards, I might still preserve my individuality, in light of the fact that my surroundings are constantly echoed in my day-to-day operations.[10]  Gorin went on a fact-finding mission.  It may have, initially, been to find out more about the Kennedy twins.  It ended up being about us all.  Now hang on, Worf’s about to totally stab this guy with a Bat’leth and I really need to watch…

[1] One reason why I can’t watch too many Klingon episodes of Star Trek.
[2]Unless we’re talking about footnoting.  In which case, yes.*
                  *Or if we’re talking about sales on frozen tacquitos.
[3] Hear that David Foster Wallace!?  All this is happening SUBCONSCIOUSLY.
[4] Citation needed.
[5] Though, we only did make it to year 6…
[6] No one needed a definitive way to write anything.
[7] Little experiments where you say a sentence like “Fishbowl suckerpunch cola,” but, tonally, you’re saying “I love you.”  It’s fun to do on the subway.  You tend to get your own car after a while.
[8] Yes, yes, I know.  There weren’t Ewoks in 1980.  Ah, let’s just take a second to appreciate that, shall we?
[9] He and Jean-Luc Picard?  Still cool.
[10] Great.  Now on to why I have to make everything I see into a narcissistic quest to “find out more about myself.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sorkin's The Newsroom: More Hard News, Less Human Interest, Please

I am an unrepentant Sorkinista. I love his wit, I love his wonkishness, I love the rapidity with which actors must deliver his dialog. If Aaron Sorkin needed someone to carry his bags or his cocaine or whatever, I would be first in line. So when, in eternal thanks to partner-in-crime and frequent guest blogger Natalie, I was able to sit down this morning with last night's premiere of The Newsroom via HBO Go, [which I now think of as HBO Go(d)], I was a happy girl. Seventy-three minutes later, I'm still happy, but a little more cautious.

Sorkin feasts on fast-paced workplaces that attract obsessive and idealistic people--we have his masterpiece The West Wing, but also Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and even A Few Good Men, which he adapted from his play. Newsroom, which takes place in the, um, newsroom of a cable television show hosted by Jeff Daniels's publicly bland but privately feisty Will McAvoy. So far so good. McAvoy has the cool jazz version of a Howard Beale meltdown during a public speaking appearance, and returns from a mandated vacation to find his executive producer, a dick named Don, has bolted along with most of his staff, and has been replaced, over his head and without his knowledge, by the drunken patriarch of the news division (a puckish Sam Waterston, looking like he'd been waiting all those years on Law & Order for the opportunity to say "fuck" this much). The new EP is Mackenzie McHale (I don't get the name either), a woman who Will used to date and who he now hates, for reasons the show isn't revealing yet.

And that's about the only element of the personal lives of the major characters the show chooses to withhold. Which was my main problem with it. We've got the timid but smart and capable new associate producer Maggie ("It's Margaret. But Maggie's fine"), who is semi-dating dickish Don (who I suspect might not be going anywhere after all). Within, literally, minutes of arriving in the newsroom, Mackenzie is dispensing dating advice and trying to set up her senior producer Jim (who has the affability and floppy hair of his The Office namesake) with her. Like, hardcore. It all felt like too much too soon, and not at all what someone like Mackenzie would be spending her time on, at least before her job was even a sure thing. But I don't so much blame Sorkin for that as much as the "you must get an audience right now" mentality that assumes people, even those who watch 73-minute long premieres on HBO, lack the patience to get to know characters over the span of multiple episodes, or even seasons. Remember how long it took before we even knew Toby had a congresswoman ex-wife?*

But where the show really takes off, and takes a gamble that could either pay off huge or blow up in its collective face, is when, in the midst of personal posturing and squabbling, the Deepwater Horizon blows up. Yeah, that one. As opposed to The West Wing, which would riff on real news obliquely, Law & Order style, Newsroom is apparently taking place in the actual America of two years ago. This means that the show gets the chance to comment on and explore real stories and their cultural impact with the benefit of hindsight (the pay off huge option). It also runs the risk of a smug self-righteousness about identifying about what "really matters" in the news, with, well, the benefit of hindsight (the blow up option). The premiere contained a lot of "mission statement" speeches that indicate the need for and difficulty of sustaining news programming that is both intellectually serious and popular. The same can definitely be said for hour-long dramas, and I hope that Newsroom dials back the date-a-palooza, and instead focuses on dissecting recent history. I think that's where Sorkin's strengths lie anyway, and I have The Bachelorette if I'm interested in who's sharing the fantasy suite with whom.

*Twenty episodes

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Reunion" (Angel 2.10): What you might call a paradigm shift

So I've been thinking a lot about Angel in terms of genre lately (fantasy? noir? detective?) and it seems like this episode is where the season, if not the series, declares its allegiance, but with a twist. But whether you're working on a conference paper or not, I think this episode is a highlight. Here goes the Angel guide to changing the rules halfway through.

DO bring out the big vamps. As you fellow Buffy fans might recall, Angel is no stranger to changing horses midstream. Season 2, anyone? And the constant is Drusilla. After she re-vamps Darla, and stake-blocks Angel, the grandmother-granddaughter/mother-daughter duo go on an L.A. killing spree. They even end up looking like 80s club kids whilst preparing to massacre the partners of Wolfram & Hart at a, wait for it, wine tasting!

"Oh my God! We're going to, like, totally kill you all!"
Unsurprisingly, Lindsey is completely into it.

DO remind everyone what the show *used* to be about. Hey, remember visions?

How about Doyle? Anyone? Doyle?

Cordy throws one in the car chasing Darla and Drusilla (Drusarla? Dilla?) . . . and Angel could care less. He stops a kid from sacrificing his own life to a demon in a fairly brusque "I've got better things to do" manner, and resumes the chase. Angel doesn't self-define as a detective anymore, even one committed to rescuing mortals who run afoul of supernatural forces. He's become a champion, a major player in the supernatural poker game being played by Wolfram & Hart.

DON'T forget what we learned from season 1. But, what makes this transition interesting, is how Angel in some ways becomes more of a hardboiled detective when shedding the noir trappings than he was when ostensibly inhabiting them. What makes Angel unique in terms of the literary trope is that though he found himself in a noir plot, he didn't, he couldn't, become completely inured to emotional connection as, say, Spade in The Maltese Falcon does. The thing about Angel was, he had to have people help him both practically (he's a vampire and can't go out during the day, go places he's not invited, etc.) and metaphysically (his connection to humans forestalls Angelus). But this episode finds Angel shedding his detective responsibilities at the same time he is becoming more hardboiled than ever. He abandons the gang at Wolfram & Hart to be slaughtered, and fires the entire staff of Angel Investigations when they try to challenge his authority and make him come to terms with his past in a way that he is not yet ready for.

Angel's "I don't give a fuuuuck" face.

Jenn remembered this was coming. I did not. I'm not sure if she knows how it will be resolved, but I can't quite remember the path Angel takes back to Wesley, Cordelia, and Gunn. I will leave you with Jenn's handy life lesson that one should take away from this episode: "Don't fuck with vampires, even ones with a soul because if they don't eat you themselves, they just might let someone else do it."

Sound advice.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Brave: Brought to you by Judd Apatow

The curly hair? Gratifying.
If Brave were a girl I was trying to set you up with, I would spend a lot of time talking about how good looking she was, and not as much about her smarts, wit, or personality. The reason isn't necessarily that the film doesn't have those latter qualities--though they're not in nearly as much abundance as some of Pixar's classics, like Ratatouille or Finding Nemo--but because the movie seems to want the audience to pay more attention to the dazzling surface (and it remarkable) than what could possibly lie beneath. And considering the studio has marketed this as a feminist fable, that's a bit of a problem.

Merida, the much-ballyhooed first female Pixar heroine, isn't different in any substantial way from her tomboy foremothers (Jo, Scout, Watts, etc.) who rebel against the unfair constraints of idealized femininity by and through rejecting its approved wardrobe and activities. She is a princess who would rather ride her horse and shoot her bow (bows are so hot this year) than obey her mother's directive to act like a lady and get married. And the film's resolution of the marriage plot is articulated in language so trite that it might as well have come at the end of a very special episode of Saved by the Bell.

Where the film's potential for, and incompletely realized exploration of, radical feminism is through Merida's conflict with her mother, Elinor (voiced to flinty perfection by true feminist icon, Emma Thompson). Merida is more terrified of turning into her mother (who doesn't so much ride horses and shoot bows) than she is of getting married. And that, my friends, is a fear not only experienced by Scottish princesses. When Merida visits a witch for a spell to change her fate, she crucially and revealingly asks for a spell to change her mother. The way that spell gets realized and resolved I won't spoil here, but know that the bulk of the film is spent not watching Merida fall in love with a man, but rather getting to know her mom. And that is not common for a fairy tale, or a summer blockbuster.

The problem for me is in the way gender is represented in Brave. (Of course it is.) And my qualm is hinted at in the title of this post. All the men in the film (Merida's father the King, her three impish little brothers, the clansman who arrive at her castle to compete for her hand) are freaking hilarious. They're fun, they're joyful, they're uninhibited. They're also childlike, childish, unwilling to accept adult responsibilities, and have bodies born for physical comedy. Sound like anyone you've seen in movies before?

Conversely, the women, well, woman, Elinor, is uptight, serious, and completely consumed by a commitment to successfully managing her life, leading her to be the de facto monarch. No wonder Merida doesn't want to turn into her, despite her happy marriage and family, and no wonder all the  men serve as comic "relief" from the plot that is supposed to make this film different.

But there is one other major female character in the film, now that I think of it. A woman who lives in the woods Merida loves so dearly, who also rejects the confining clothing of "proper" femininity, and who makes her living as an artist. It's the witch, of course, who provides Merida with her spell. I think a braver Brave would have looked more closely at this unnamed sorceress as another possible  model for Merida to emulate when deciding what kind of woman she wants to be.

"Into the Woods" (Buffy 5.10): Don't let the chopper hit you in the ass on the way out

Or on the other hand, do. So this is the episode Jenn and I have been waiting for. We finally get to watch the increasingly whiny, petulant, misogynist and emotionally stunted Agent Finn exit the Buffyverse (for now). As you take a long last look at Riley, allow Jenn's goodbye chorus to echo through your ears: "Ding dong the douche is gone / the tedious douche / the selfish douche / ding dong the horrendously boring douche is finally gone."


So we should be happy, right? Are we happy? Not so much. To paraphrase someone much more badass than Riley, nothing in his character becomes him so much as his leaving of the show, and that just ain't fair. Rather than structure this special Buffy guide to giving me exactly what I want and somehow pissing me off in the process with the typical Do's and Don't's, I'm going to instead anchor my observations off of the phrases that got the most question marks and/or exclamation points while I was taking notes during this rewatch.

SERIOUSLY????!!!! The scene that prompted this outburst was Riley sneaking out of bed with Buffy post-coital to get a suck job (Spike's words) from a lady vamp.

Riley: "Harder." tracy: "Barf."

Now, let's leave aside the fact that, since Riley has been getting serviced for weeks now, he is presumably covered with bite scars, making naked sexytime a little awkward. Let's instead focus on the fact that he has exactly what he wants, i.e., Buffy all to himself, and he STILL isn't satisfied, making the next point all the more salient.

UGH!!!!!  Okay, this expression of revulsion was in response to Spike's further elucidation of why the Buffy/Riley unholy alliance was doomed. It boils down to "she needs a little monster in her man."

The scene of them swilling wine in mutual despair is exempted from the "ugh," however.

Which taken in this textual moment is fine. Riley IS too dull and milquetoast for her--not because she's a Slayer, but because he's a hulking slab of boring. But this speech is a warning of moments to come. It's sowing the seeds of the Buffy Is Messed Up plant that will come to full bloom in season 6. Jenn observes that Spike's debate as to which unrequited lover has it better, him or Riley, and deciding on Riley, is also going to have disturbing implications in "Seeing Red." However, in my "humble" opinion, the problem is, IT'S NOT HER PROBLEM. Captain Cardboard has the problem. His model of being needed, the only way he'll feel loved, is to have Buffy latch on to his carotid. That requires a level of commitment that is, shall we say, a touch unsustainable? You didn't hear Angel, or even that brain tumor dude from season 2, boohooing because she wanted to sit with her friends at lunch sometimes. Look dude, she has a lot on her mind right now. It's not like she didn't ever talk to you about it, and we were all patient with you through your endless withdrawal from super-meth/mourning of Dr. Substitute Mommy/loss of your band of brothers last season.

He also yells at her and taunts her to hit him. It's not hot.


Because he can throw Blue Steel like a champ.

EFFING MOTHEREFFING XANDER!!!!! Now, I love Xander. He is loyal and funny and brave. But. Where THE HELL does he get off lecturing Buffy about what it means to be in a healthy relationship and how to be emotionally available? His babyish jealousy is the reason that she had to stab re-souled Angel* which sent her off on this disorienting tailspin of self-doubt that she still hasn't recovered from. Not to mention the fact that he's, you know, wrong. If his take were the problem--that she was still questioning who she was and what she wanted and that's why the Riley thing was dying, then fine (sort of). But NOOOOO. The "problem" is that she didn't call him fast enough when her mother was in the hospital. Give him a reason to stay? Give him an effing reason? Give ME a reason she's been banging him this long.

And he also sort of yells at her, in a condescending and self-righteous way.
BUT, he does try to account for his assholeish behavior towards Anya at the end of the episode, indicating, as Jenn notes, that he sees the problems emotional walls can cause and tries to fix them.

*Which I still have trouble forgiving him for.

RUNNING?????  The show has the unmitigated GALL to have her run after that needy man-child as if she were going to beg him to take her back! Again, I say "!" That's what bothers me about this break-up. She was not wrong in the way she acted towards him. She was not being a bad girlfriend. But now she has to feel bad about herself and feel like she's fundamentally messed up or unlovable for not indulging his every unreasonable demand? NO. NO SIR.

You deserve better, Buff.

AND: Riley doesn't deserve a cool copter exit. Angel just walked away. Unchased, I might add. 

Pictured: A boyfriend who is chase-worthy. For reference.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Director: Timor Bekmasomthingorother
Stars: A lot of people you'd recognize but may not know their names

Oy.  I just saw AL:VH tonight and thought I should post about it before I lose any steam. In fact I went for a drink with my dear friend Jenna after the movie and before I could enjoy my cider, I had to jot down some notes so I wouldn't miss anything.  The problem is, this may all come out as gibberish.  I'm not a writer and I'm aware of that. When something burns my bacon this badly, I tend to make even less sense than usual.  Also I'm watching my Gamecocks pull out a win against Arkansas so I'm a little distracted by that too.  It's the top of the 9th but we're only ahead by one run.  Wow, these guys look really young.  I'm getting off track.

My notes look a bit like this:
Jenna's quote
Blast SGS for writing this drivel
Action good but tired of slo mo fighting/blood splatter
CG was terrible
Mary good as Mary but not crazy enough
Dominic Cooper was good but the hair. Oh the hair.
Stylized, if one enjoyed Wanted...
TRAIN WRECK.  Literally.

Now I will expand a bit on the notes.  Jenna, again I will remind you, is a dear, sweet friend.  She goes with me to all the bad movies.  She was with me for Conan and many others since.  She, like me, has low expectations for movies like this but it's rare that one actually pisses us off.  At one point in the movie she leaned over and said, "More vampires than you could swing a dead horse at."  Mind you at this point in the movie a vampire was literally swinging a horse around by the hoof.  Also the swinging of the horse took place during a stampede.  This was one of the fakest looking things I've seen on screen in a while.  (Buh Bye Razorbacks!  Where was I?)  There was another shot of the Gettysburg battlefield that looked terribly fake too.  Shameful use of CGI when it was obvious they blew their budget on the slow-mo fighting scenes.  The whole Matrix way of slowing down action for effect is So. Overdone.  It's especially obnoxious when buckets of blood splatter out all over the place.  But this is a vampire movie and there needs to be blood.  Plus the fighting was pretty cool.  So while I'm on the subject of the look of AL:VH I will mention the director, Timur Bekmambetov.  He directed the Angelina Jolie/ James McAvoy action film, Wanted.  I liked Wanted.  It had some issues but was an enjoyable film.  Timur (I'm not typing his last name out again so he'll have to forgive my informality) likes overly-stylized films and this one, though set in the 1800s, was still pretty stylized. 

I think my biggest problem was the writing.  I read the book, written by Seth Grahame-Smith, and enjoyed it. The whole time I was reading it I kept thinking, "they're going to have to add a lot of action for it to work as a movie."  I didn't like myself for saying that but it's sadly the truth regarding audiences and what studios thing audiences want.  I think the reason the book worked was because it reads like a real Lincoln biography and the vampire stuff was just another layer to his life.  The movie didn't achieve that.  They took out all the clever vampire politicians, the assassination, and the ending (which I really enjoyed).  They added a best friend (played by Anthony Mackie, who I adore) and a vampire baddie (played by Rufus Sewell who I also adore) for unknown reasons. As the credits rolled I had this thought that the Seth Grahame-Smith who wrote the book would (should) be so angry with the Seth Grahame-Smith who wrote the film.  It felt like such a sell out situation.  In the movie, Lincoln only had one son.  In the book he had four, like in real life.  In the movie Mary Todd Lincoln got kind of depressed after the death of her son.  In the book she really lost it and never quite came back, like in real life.  I understand that movies are limited to the amount of content that can be included but would it have killed them to show a few other boys running around the White House?  Would it have killed them to have Mary be inconsolable?    Oh!  I can't forget the literal train wreck.  It seemed rather meta for them to do it but there was a real train wreck inside of a train wreck of a movie.  It was at that point that I nodded and said, "Yep.  That's about right."

I'm not even going to bother going into the actual story.  It's not worth the time or effort.  Plus it's late and I'm tired.  I'm just disappointed because they could have done some really cool things with the material from the book. The movie jumped around and skipped over stuff that should have been there.  It's just so frustrating.

So what was good about the movie?  I did mention the fighting and even though I'm tired of the slo-mo I did get a kick out of it.  Also good was Benjamin Walker who played the eponymous Abraham Lincoln.  He really struck me as a young Liam Neeson.  Then I looked him up on IMDB and realized he actually played a young Liam Neeson in Kinsey.  Give that casting director a pat on the back.  He did a good job in a crappy situation and really knew how to wield an axe (not a euphemism).  In fact all the actors seemed to rise above the material. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was cute and sweet as Mary Todd Lincoln.  Dominic Cooper was good (as usual) as Henry, the Giles to Abe's Buffy.  And, as I mentioned, the rest of the cast did what they could. 

I'm done.  It was better than Conan but I had higher expectations for this than I did for Conan.  I knew AL:VH was going to be bad but I didn't think it was going to be this bad.

I know how you feel, dude.

A Little Bit of Heaven, A Whole Lot of Crap: A rant against bad illness movies

I even find the poster annoying.
Now, regular readers know that I am an unreconstructed Sparksian, so it was probably no surprise that I would be perversely attracted to A Little Bit of Heaven. This mess of syrupy fluff seemed to promise the same blend of romance and melodrama (romodrama?) that Sparks adaptations sign, seal, and deliver. Kate Hudson, who has been on a precipitous downward slide since Almost Famous, plays a young, hip girl who gets diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer. At the very best I was hoping for a glassful of Sweet November with a pinch of 50/50. What I got was a double-shot of dumbed-down dreck.

I knew that the road was going to be rocky when a) a cute kid; b) a cute dog; c) a sassy gay best friend; and d) pointless voiceover narration were all introduced in the first three minutes. And it's not a totally great sign when they try to establish Hudson's character, Marley, as a with-it, sex positive girl by having her make a booty call, land an ad account for condoms, and say out loud "I'm really fun" (because she seems really intolerable) in the first five minutes. Plus, the film criminally misuses both Peter Dinklage (I shit you not--his character is where the title comes from) and Gael Garcia Bernal's mouth. But look, I rented the death porn movie--I'll accept the soundtrack doing the bulk of the emotional work of the story, I'll even accept Whoopi Goldberg playing God in Marley's anesthesia-induced vision, and her undergoing Samantha Jones chemo (you still have enough energy to go out drinking). But what bothers me about this movie is more systemic than specific.

My problem is when films use illness as a convenient entre into another recognizable narrative--be it a love plot, a redemption plot, whatever. The thing about serious illness is that it disrupts narrative. It explodes any and all sense of logic or cohesion or cause and effect that make people who look to stories for meaning (i.e., humans) comfortable. In this way, sickness graphically demonstrates the way our bodies and minds and worlds are in a constant (and at times heartbreaking) state of dynamic conversation with each other. And texts (movies, books, plays) are in a unique position to literalize and explore how being life-threateningly ill intensifies and exposes that relationship, both for the suffering body and for the people who love that body. Movies like A Little Bit of Heaven play it way too safe, which is fairly insulting to people who are ill, people who care about people who are ill, and people who believe in art's power to honestly and bravely investigate what it means to be human.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Potent Notables

Snowdrifter (2012) Short Film from Mack Carruthers on Vimeo.

Thanks to my friend, Jenna, whose students showed her the above video.  I love it ever so much.

A lot of these have been making the rounds so forgive me if they're old news:

- I love a good giggle, especially when it involves tiny hands.

- This just proves what a smart show Buffy is.

-X-Men and Muppets?!?! Yes, please!

- I would like to see this version of The Hunger Games!

- My parents were not at all geeky when I was little (they are a bit more now).  They would have never built me an AT-AT bed.

- Is it possible to love Michael Fassbender more?  Yes.  Yes, it is.

- Why isn’t the word “actress” in quotes in this article?  Can we really call what she does "acting?"  Also, this is just beyond depressing.

Watching Twilight in a Small Town with Big Tacos

So here's what happens when you bring a playwright from New York to Fort Morgan and make him watch Twilight: 

Actually the most happening event most nights in Fort Morgan.

But I’d rather not start with a discussion of vampires.  As a matter of fact, I’d prefer to create my Joseph Campbellian jumping-off point when I was about six.  Well, maybe not six.  Six has become my default age for childhood stories.  I’m always six.  Six or 26 are the L.A. and New York of my life.  Very little in between. 
So I’m six.  I’m on a family vacation to New York City where the inevitable mother-son trip to the Museum of Modern Art was underway.  We lived in Knoxville.  My parents pined for New York City the way Snooki pants at that 2pm bottle of wine.  We all have our home bases.  This was theirs.  Mine was? 
We’re in the modern art museum because Mom[1] figured anything not made out of feces could go straight to hell.  It was there that I took a personal interest in the warmth of museum couches.  It was there that I dreamt, between “Look, Jonathan”’s, of all the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers episodes I could have been watching had the Nazis not won the war and subjected me to this fate.[2]   It was there that I, perhaps just out of frustration, found my favorite painting.
 It was the Edward Ruscha.  OOF.  1962.  Reworked in 1963, whatever that means.  It’s just the onomatopoeia “OOF” – all capital letters – written in yellow in front of a blue background on a 72”x67” canvas.  Turns out Ruscha spent his formative years in Oklahoma City, before finding out that that town might not quite know the difference between pop art and a Dairy Queen.[3]  He hightailed it to L.A. after that.  Little did I know that I was on a similar timetable.
But in the moment, “Oof” just seemed like something I might say because the comic books I read might say that.  So I thought it was cool.  I was drawn to it.  I related to things not because I might say them, but because some item in my life might – a comic book, an action figure, a Lego city about to be stomped on.  Upon reflection, I’d wonder if this somehow made me without substance.  Made me whatever I watched.  Or perhaps it was more wonderful than that.  Perhaps it was just that I had become entirely my escape to, after spending so many years[4] spewing the ectoplasm of my escape from.  Oof.
Now, 20 years hence, I can still look at the Ruscha and smile.  I can smile the smile of Patrick McGoohan at the end of the last episode of The Prisoner.  It isn’t something I can do often, though I’m brimming with affinity for other artists.  Romaine Brooks.  Robert Rauschenberg.  Edward Hopper, though I suppose his pretty routine abuse of women forbids my lips from being taxed by stretching for his work.  Seriously, I hear the guy used women like my six-year-old self used museum couches.  Just something to sit on while thinking about The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers
The nature of escape is also different.  I tend now to escape to where I once escaped from.  Big Lots is a store that exemplifies this surely Africanized tendency.[5]  Wal-Mart, to confess a surely deeper sin.  Waffle House.  Maybe there comes a time in everyone’s life where all you want is to get back to a place with sticky floors and bacon somehow on the ceiling.  The comic books and action figures – the ones that spat “Oof” with such imagined regularity – are still paramount to my own escapism, but I wonder, sometimes, if I’m not now more interested in the rug, than what’s under it.  Or, like the absurdist gedankenexperiment Schrodinger’s Cat, I can’t shake the feeling that, under the rug, is whatever I want, so long as I don’t peel back the corner.  So if I just wander the aisles of a Big Lots, I can pretend that, just one row over, is that Optimus Prime I’ve lost track of.[6]  That Cobra B.A.T. Soldier that had a backpack that screamed, a la a Charlie Brown teacher, “B.A.T.s attack!” whenever a small rubber button was pushed.  The things my dad bought me, pre-me-earning-a-paycheck.
Tracy introduced me to a land, a town, a fort amidst other forts that assured no Native American would escape the law of a land that was theirs, that now, instead of erecting those high, wooden, Lincoln-Log-On-Crack barriers, builds Big Lots’s and Wal-Marts and surely some sort of waffle-oriented establishment (John’s Tacos?) as though these are the prosperity any young man headed West ought to bask in.
After my 11-year stint as a New Yorker[7], such a sight was a landscape of Ben Stein for my beach ball-red eyes.  Though I knew at this point it would not just be my escape at hand, here.  After all, Big Lots had to close at some point.  Somehow, Tracy’s collection of, like, 17 unreleased cuts of Lord of the Rings[8] permitted the immensely successful failure of American escapism to appear in their midst: Twilight.  I think the conversation went something like this:
TRACY:  Want to watch Twilight?
ME:  No.
TRACY:  We can make tacos.
ME:  Tacos?
So Twilight it was.  I was vastly unprepared for that decision, you see.  I mean, here’s how every other conversation I’ve ever had about Twilight went:
And the story was off.  Girl separates from Mom and New Dad (Phil!).  Girl goes to live with Dad Original.  Girl almost dies.  Girl saved by Loner Guy.  Girl falls for Loner Guy.  Turns out Loner Guy is a Vampire.  Turns out Girl is Into It.  I’m pretty sure I stole all that off the back of the DVD, verbatim.
I think the front-DVD-cover review said something like: “If you love hanging out at the DMV, you’ll love this movie!”
Well.  I guess that’s apt, accurate or not, as a review.  What I guess I didn’t get then[9] and what I don’t get now[10] is that why, if three letters – “Oof” – can be a sufficient escape for the human mind[11], why the epic-ness and the melodrama and the glitter?  Are we, as a culture, starting to drop the sparsely-decorated landscape for the Tunnel-of-Love Vision of rapid-fire, Bourgeois[12] minutiae that happens so quick we just trust in…something?...that it has merit as a whole?  Maybe it’s the natural progression of things, from the railroad to the radio signal to now.  Faster.
I hope that doesn’t permeate.  I hope I can still revel in all the thoughts of all the things that lump under the rug might be. 
I’m a bad narrator because I can’t supply you with any real dialogue from this adventure.  I can only use it as a laser-scanned lens through which I can look and see, well, everything else.  I say “well” a lot.  That also doesn’t help my narration skills.  I have no excuse for that.
I’m not terribly interested in the parts of Twilight that stretch beyond 3-4 letters.  I’m not on Team Edward or Team…the other one.  I’m on Team Phil.  The New Dad.  The guy who had the sense to be in the movie for, like, two seconds.  The “Oof” of the movie.  Phil gives me a character about whom I can – if merely by editorial error or restriction – use my imagination.  I can think about him at a Waffle House, reflecting upon his childhood, and how that might have been a simpler time when his stepdaughter didn’t run off to a place where it rains all the time and vampires are essentially The Fonz. 
Phil would probably like Ruscha.  He’d probably think theatre was the way to go, but film paid the bills, so here he was.  And I’d bet he thought his new wife, sans Vampire Vixen, was pretty much the bee’s knees for showing him, for instance, an arid clime with cool deserts and stars and places like CiCi’s Pizza, where you can get pizza, buffet-style, pretty much any time you want it.  And if they don’t have the kind of pizza you want, they make it for you on the spot.  It takes like 10 minutes, too.  And there’s always Pac Man you can play while you wait.  I’ll bet Phil would go for that in a heartbeat.
Phil’s surely a man who spent too many quarters on those little plastic eggs you get out of machines outside the Krogers’ that have little toys in them.  I’m sure Phil’s got a collection, but it nowhere near rivals that one he had when he was a kid, that he got with the one quarter his mom managed to muster off the bottom of her seemingly endless and oddly maraca-sounding purse.  Phil’s whole life is probably a quest to find that toy – a needle in a haystack – and this whole vampire thing is just an intermezzo.  A brief hiccup before he gets back on track to his actual destination.
See and Phil.  Phil probably just gets it.  I doubt he needs things to sparkle. I doubt he needs anything to even shine.  I think he simply wants to know something is there.  That there’s a there, there.  Like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland.  Something under the rug.  Phil understands this.  The importance of this.  He’s not in a saga.  He’s in a Ruscha.
There are people like this.  People that can bathe you in the simplest of terms that are also the most complex.  People whose eyes hit you like the crest of a wave that never breaks.  Like a high water mark that stays high.  And when you’re wrapped up in such beauty, you forget the things that glitter in the sun.  There’s nothing you have to carry with you.  There’s nothing you have to say.  Just.  Oof.

--Jonathan Alexandratos

[1] It feels so weird to call her that.  “Mom.”  I never called her that outside of stories I wrote in elementary school.  Those little limericks they made you write in praise of at least one parent.
[2] I didn’t know about Nazis then, but one can assume I would have mentioned them, were I more historically savvy.
[3] Wait.  Is there one?
[4] Years 0-5.99?  This is where the six-year-old all-purpose-age thing starts to break down.
[5] Africanized like viruses.  Not, like, in any way racist.  I’d just as soon call it “Belgianized.”
[6] When?  We’ll say when I was six.
[7] All right, so some things did happen between six and 26.
[8] All of which I need to see – especially the one where Gandalf the Grey oddly becomes Gandalf the Fuchsia.
[9] Because I didn’t think about it.
[10] As I do think about it.
[11] My human mind, I guess.
[12] A term I use because Lindsay Anderson did, not because I want to be like that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Adaptation Angst: Life of Pi

Guest blogger and partner-in-crime Nat alerted me to this footage from the upcoming film adaptation of Yann Martel's genius novel Life of Pi. To give too much of the plot away would be an epic crime, but if you keep the words "memory", "promiscuous spirituality"; "shipwreck", and "big-ass tiger" in mind, you should have a sense of how wonderful, in the sense of full of wonder, this novel is. If you lack the energy to click, here is the clip embedded:

My angst level was CONSIDERABLY lowered once Ang Lee, whose name will get my ass into any theatre seat, replaced M. Night "the grass is mad at you so outrun the wind" Shyamalan as director. At one time Alfonso "has the artistic seriousness but not the whimsy" Cuaron was also attached. However, as much as I trust Lee, coming off a conference in which his "failed" adaptation of The Incredible Hulk was much discussed, I do agree that his strengths lie in the investigation of the self's relationship to a social stystem that is highly structured in some way antithetical to freedom (see Sense and Sensibility; The Ice Storm; Lust,Caution, and even Ride with the Devil). It is not immediately apparent to me that Life of Pi fits neatly into this paradigm (correct me if I'm wrong, any other fans of the book--it's been a while since I read it). Also, for reasons that are entirely personal, it makes my ass twitch that Tobey Maguire is playing Martel in the film.

According to Nat, we won't be getting a conventional preview anytime soon, but rather these snatches of action. Though I was initially resistant to that, I actually think that giving us fragments of the film and asking us to piece them together might be a nice entre into the way memory and narration work in the novel. This book managed to make a devoted postmodernist (Nat) and a fervent modernist (me) both fall in love, and I have reasonably high hopes that Ang Lee can give us a film that will do the same.

Angst level: 4