Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Terrible, awful hurricanes

Belmar, NJ - My favorite boardwalk in the whole world. (Photo: Joe Hosking) Shared by Jersey Shore Hurricane News
I grew up in NJ (specifically Belmar, Pedricktown, and Swedesboro) and will always consider it my home even though I was born in Philly and have spent more years away from there than I did actually living there.  My heart is just breaking whenever I see photos of the destruction Hurricane Sandy left behind.  I am happy to say that all my friends escaped with little damage. Everyone in the northeast is in our thoughts and prayers and we wish you all the best during what will be a difficult recovery.

If you're interested in helping out efforts, which are going to cost billions and billions of dollars, please give what you can.  If you can't afford to give lots of money, keep in mind that the good folks at the American Red Cross will take blood and platelet donations too. 

Play Ball!

Personally, I much prefer reading books and watching movies about baseball to, you know, actually viewing the sport on television or in person. If you agree, check out Natalie's baseball reading list!

Overshadowed by the ginormous freaking scary storm is the news fact that the San Fran Giants just swept the Detroit Tigers to win the 2012 World Series. If all of that sounds Greek to you, here are a bunch of baseball books to keep your homeruns and field goals straight. 

Read this rightthisveryminute, like before you finish this post (it's ok, the post will keep): The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: Try to keep your "F@&^, this is the dude's first novel" anger to a minimum and just enjoy this long but much too short novel about college baseball, love, and growing up on a college campus. 

Get a little multi-cultural: The Japanese love baseball and The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa displays that love through an older professor and the housekeeper (and her baseball-obsessed son) and the way all of their lives are changed. The translation is shaky and it's one that I appreciate much more after reading (rather than loving it as I read) but I think it's worth a read.

Watch a movie: Bull Durham: Maybe it's just because I spent an inordinate amount of time during my MA in Mitch's Tavern, or because I'm from NC, or because I watched loads of minor league baseball as a kid . . . whatever it is, I think it's bigger than any of those things. Bull Durham is just film gold. [Mitch's Tavern is the bar featured in the film--salty waitresses who will gradually strengthen your drinks as they realize you're gonna be a regular.]

Read a master: Don DeLillo's Pafko at the Wall (or, the first part of Underworld): "Savvy" marketing people repackaged the baseball section of Underworld into a teeny book, Pafko at the Wall. I don't really care how you read DeLillo, as long as you read DeLillo (well, not Cosmopolis; let's give the man one pass for a not-so-great book).

If you absolutely must compare your dick to a baseball bat: AND then you have to title it The Great American Novel. Your name MUST be Philip Roth. I never recommend reading Roth. Not unless someone hits me with a bat upside my head.

Huh, so that's a book?: The Natural by Bernard Malamud: So, if you've seen Robert Redford take a swing and liked it, you might have a go at this little book.

Huh, so that's a book? Part 2, the non-fiction edition: Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella: If you've seen Kevin Costner go a little batty about building a field and people coming, you might try this book. And, yeah, while you're at it, just go ahead and watch The Natural and Field of Dreams if you haven't already. Please tell me you have already...

Almost famous: Ring Lardner's Ring around the Bases: Lardner was semi-famous as a baseball writer and not-at-all famous as F. Scott Fitzgerald's close friend (and likely model for Abe North in Tender Is the Night) and even less famous as short story author edited by the famous Maxwell Perkins. But, his lack of fame speaks nothing of his writing talent.

Something of a circus freak: Wherever I Wind Up by R.A. Dickey: So, first of all this major league pitcher is missing a ligament in his elbow. Second, that lack of ligament makes him an awesome knuckleballer (the only exclusively knuckleball pitcher currently in the league). Third, he's climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Fourth, he was an English major who quotes Faulkner (and we're talking Absalom, Absalom!) and says shit like "Kairotic moments" like the rest of us say "ice cream." So, yeah, this is his autobiography.

Stuff of fantasy: The Universal Baseball Association by Robert Coover: If you can't join 'em, boss 'em around in a fantasy baseball league and become a tad obsessed and maybe a bit unhinged. Coover's novel follows a dude who does just that--deep, dark, black comedy here, folks.

And maybe next year, you'll be all set for the baseball season (btw, that basically starts in January with spring training).

(No) Problems with this poster - The Wolverine

I have no issues with this poster at all.  It's stylish and there's no question who the movie is about.  Plus you get a definite Asian feel, which is appropriate since our dear Logan travels to Japan in the film.

Good job, folks behind The Wolverine.

There's a Doctor in the house

So I'm used to being late to the party, but not fifty freaking years late. The first series of Doctor Who ran on the BBC from 1963 to 1989, and I watched my first episode (the first of the "new" series 5), um, last night, at the urging of frequent guest blogger Jonathan Alexandratos. And now there's no going back. "The Eleventh Hour" reminded me of a funnier, more charming, and less self-important variation on my all-time favorite premiere episode, the pilot of Lost. It managed to establish what matters on the show (aliens, adventure, the interplay between Amy and the Doctor) while still telling a compelling story (I love that Amy and the Doctor's relationship is founded on a fundamental disappointment--he keeps failing to show up when and where he says he will).

So now I've become acquainted with things like TARDIS and sonic screwdrivers, but I'll be honest--there's a lot I don't yet get about the Doctor Who universe. So I understand that "Doctor" is more a title or position than a character, and different beings inhabit that role. But do they have the memories of previous Doctors? Or are they entirely new beings? Smith's character spent a good twenty minutes learning how to walk, learning what food tasted like, etc. Had his consciousness been disembodied somewhere previous to his incarnation? Will there be a meta-storyline? An overarching villain or mission that structures the Doctor's hops through time? Or is it still loyal to the serial structure of the earliest episodes? And what the hell is a dalek?

There's only one way to find out. Like I told Jonathan, it's very dangerous to introduce someone with an obsessive personality and a lot of time on her hands to a pop culture phenomenon with a rabid fan base and a complicated and convoluted mythology. Though I'd prefer to watch each episode in order (see above: obsessive personality), I think that might be a fool's quest, especially since I want to start RIGHTNOW, so I'm going to make like a Time Lord and hop around in the series's chronology, from Hartnell to Eccleston and back again, and master this world, Doctor by Doctor.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Horrible Way to Die is a decent way to spend the afternoon

Based on the title alone, A Horrible Way to Die is pretty intriguing. And it mostly lives up to the promise of its name, though not in the way you might expect. The film traces two plots: an escaped serial killer, Garrick, slashing his way across the Mid-South trying to make it back to the girlfriend who turned him in, and the girl herself, a recently sober dental hygienist, Sarah, struggling with some pretty bad memories as she tries to rebuild her life and form a relationship with a man in her AA group. When the plots converge, they do so in a way that surprised me, and didn't lead me to regret spending an hour and twenty-seven minutes with Simon Barrett's script.

There were moments I wasn't thrilled with Adam Wingard's direction, however. Though the gore both past and present is shown on the edges of the frame, in ways that make the snatches more horrifying for being so indistinct, Wingard is also a fan of the "shake the camera around to indicate frenzy and/or terror" school of direction. I, however, am not. The music was also a little too overblown for a story that is, in an odd way, quite intimate. Also, there is no way in hell that the rather large story of the escape of Garrick, according to the film one of "the nation's most popular serial killers" somehow escaped the notice of his ex-girlfriend, and  star witness of his prosecution, but she seems totally oblivious until, well, she can be oblivious no longer.

A Horrible Way to Die is very deliberate in its pacing, and very careful in its depiction of human relationships. Though at times the film's almost parable-like plot seems at odds with the brutal naturalism of its violence, the point its making, about what we will and will not ignore in order to find intimacy, is pretty sophisticated for a slasher flick.

Freaking Scary Books

Guestblogger Natalie gives us a spooky reading list!

All Hallow's Eve is upon us (really?! Who else just cannot believe that it's almost November?) and if you pay attention to every word Neil Gaiman has ever said you know it's time to gift a few spooky books. While you're gifting, you might as well read a few yourself. I've been reading scary books since I could read chapter books--luckily my parents were of the "read anything as long as you're reading something" camp (still are, by the way) and never really questioned what I wanted to read (given, I wasn't searching out porn or instructions on making a pipe-bomb in the local bookstore or library--I probably wouldn't have found any if I were, actually, given the small Southern town and 1980s and all).

Contemporary book with a movie component: Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist: Give the movies, the Swedish Let the Right One In and the American Let Me In, a skip (if you've been under a rock and not seen them, that is) and read the novel instead. Seriously. The movies are just "eh" in comparison to the book which will keep you awake for nights. Nights. And lots of nights because the book is a doorstop. A creepy might-come-alive-and-eat-your-face-while-you-sleep doorstop. Each of the films reduces some of the content, obviously, but also takes out some of the scariest shit ever. Ever.

Contemporary book from the scary movie dude: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan: I'm including this one because it came to mind when I thought of "scary books" and it has it's moments as a modern-day-holy-shit-we-could-all-be-vampires-any-minute-like-that-virus-in-Hot Zone type book. But, if you really want freaky out of del Toro go watch Pan's Labryinth and see the wtf creepy dude with eyes in his hands. I may have nightmares tonight.

Real-life scary as hell: Anything Glenn Back has ever written. Kidding. Don't read that, you'll never sleep again. And you'll be dumber for it (and that's not purely political commentary, dude gets history wrong incessantly and there isn't much scarier than idiots who get to write books that actually sell).

Vintage {more obscure} Frights: Stephen King: I don't know so much about the man's recent work but pick up something like The Eyes of the Dragon or the short story collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes. You'll avoid the pop-culture burn-out of novels like Carrie or The Shining but keep the scare factor.

Get your flashlight and pretend to be a kid: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz: I can't be sure how great Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters is going to be (probably not at all given Jeremy Renner's inability to play anyone but Jeremy Renner), but Gidwitz's kids' book will give you enough gore to forget that "Hansel and Gretel" was ever whitewashed into Disney acceptability. Apparently he's written a companion book of which I'm just now aware, In a Glass Grimmly, that seems to be about Jack and Jill. Hello, amazon cart.

Get your She-Ra or He-Man flashlight and show the world just how old you are with your nostalgia: (Assuming you're all my age--which I assume everyone is) If you want actual retro-kid scary goodness, check out a few books by Lois Duncan like Don't Look Behind You (Duncan's oeuvre goes back to the late 50s if you're older than me), a little pre-Goosebumps R.L. Stine like The Babysitter, or Christopher Pike's Gimme a Kiss (or go for Pike's adult book, which I totally read as a kid: The Season of Passage). 

Obligatory {former} English Prof. plug: The Classics: Go forth and read Poe, Lovecraft, Bradbury, Shelley (but only if you get it right and call the big dude with bolts, Frankenstein's Monster; Frankenstein was the loony doctor, people!), Stoker, et al

Vampire Diaries Goes Buffy Up in Here

And I couldn't be happier! We've got Slayers and Mean Girl drama and someone finally being upfront about how ridiculous it is that Stefan and Vamp Elena still attend high school. AND Klaus is back!

Remember Rebecca, Klaus's annoying sister? Well, she's decided to be the (pre-Scooby, less clever) Cordelia of Mystic Falls and reign as Queen Mega Bitch. She throws a kegger, but even better, she throws a pencil right into Elena's shoulder after taunting her about making out with Stefan! Then, she tosses some blood bait into the girls' bathroom, and giggles with glee when Elena uncontrollably vamps out! Elena's desire to kill Becca, as well as her waning capacity to control her rage and bloodlust, is a major plot point of the episode, but another part of "new vampdom" that I could care less about. Becca the Bitch? That I enjoy. One thumb up.

We learn more about Connor of the invisible tattoos as well, and I'm into it. Turns out Jeremy can see the ink . . . because he's a potential vamp hunter as well! When he, Damon, and Klaus join forces to kill Connor, Klaus saves him at the last second, realizing he's "one of the five," a group so mysterious, Connor himself didn't know he was in it! Two thumbs up.

One of the many things I love about Buffy is the way the supernatural is used to intensify and explore elements of high school that all mortals relate to. With Tyler's old flame in town, Becca's bullying, and Stefan unable to help Damon kill Connor "because he had a physics test," this week's Vampire Diaries tapped that vein but good. Please sir, I'd like some more.

Walking Dead - recap-a-palooza

“Walk With Me”

Um, a helicopter?  It crashes and Michonne and Andrea see the smoke from a few miles away.  Guess where they’re headed?

Andrea’s still not doing well so she rests, guarded by the pets, while Michonne checks out the wreckage.  She has to quickly retreat because a couple of trucks are pulling up to the wreckage.  This is when we’re treated to our first sighting of the Governor.  From some nearby bushes, Michonne and Andrea watch the Governor and his flunkies inspect the downed helicopter.  He shoots two of the occupants and we see the change had already taken effect on at least one of them.  A walker shambles up to and then right past our girls, totally ignoring them.  Cool.  I have a theory about this that’s later confirmed by the show.  So yay for me.  The pets get all worked up about something and won’t quiet down so Michonne fixes this by chopping off their heads with her handy katana.  Well I guess they won’t be around much anymore.  The Governor and his men decide whatever the noise in the bushes was is now gone…that is, until Merle happens upon them from behind.  He’s got this nifty bayonet where his hand used to be.  He immediately recognizes Andrea and then she passes out.  She fades in and out while being transported and we see tiny bits of the area but not much else.

Andrea is being treated by a doctor, Merle comes in and they catch up on old times.  She tells him how she got separated but gives him news that his little brother, Darryl, had really stepped up to be a vital part of their group. Then she cuts to the chase, “What do you want from us?”  Michonne has been quiet this whole time, which does not go unnoticed by Merle.  He starts to point out how ungrateful she’s being now that she’s being treated and they’re currently pretty dang safe.  Andrea thanks him, which pisses off Michonne.  Apparently she’s never heard the flies/honey/vinegar thing.  The Governor enters and is friendly enough.  Andrea and Michonne are upset at his having killed two of the guys on the downed helicopter.  The Governor replies that they had changed but Andrea and Michonne are confused because they hadn’t been bitten.  A knowing and slightly pitying look crosses over the Governor’s face when he realizes they don’t know the deal with the infection.  He explains the situation to them and then opens the doors to the outside.  They are welcomed to Woodbury, a lovely, quiet little town…blockaded from outside forces.  Merle is up on the blockade taking out a few “biters” and refers to the Governor by name.  This sparks Andrea’s interest and asks him about it.  He brushes it off as a nickname but Andrea is all over that, “Buzz is a nickname. Governor is a title. There’s a difference.”  Indeed.  He takes them to a room with food, a bed and even a shower and leaves.

The next morning Andrea and a still very quiet Michonne are getting a tour of Woodbury from some chick.  There are 73 folks living in Woodbury and life is pretty safe overall.  Of course Michonne is skeptical.  Meanwhile the rescued helicopter dude is telling the Governor his story from his hospital gurney.  There are others from his unit that were left behind while he and the two other guys scouted ahead in the chopper.  The governor assures him that if he tells him where they are he’ll get them.  He’s trying to be reassuring but I can’t help but get a chill.  I can’t put my finger on it but there’s something there.  I know we’re not supposed to trust this guy but as I haven’t read too far in the books I don’t know why. Yet.

The Governor walks through town and to a lab-type place where Dallas Roberts (I love this actor, he always shows up in stuff I watch) is checking out the pets…who are still alive…sort of.  He’s figured out how genius it was of Michonne to not only chop off their arms but to take away their jaws.  She made them docile.  Plus they worked as walker repellant because of their smell.  It’s pretty smart, actually.  During their conversation we learn that the Governor keeps Dallas around because he’s not exactly a yes man and he makes good tea.  Governor and Dallas are having breakfast with Michonne and Andrea.  Dallas (who I’m sure has a character name but it’s escaped me) asks Michonne about her pets but of course she doesn’t answer and instead scowls at him with the meanest look on her face.  She spends most of breakfast eating her eggs and staring at her katana, which is on display in a hutch.  The Governor explains the purpose of their little community to Andrea (Michonne being all pre-occupied with their weapons).  The folks of Woodbury are getting on with life and not waiting to be rescued.  At the end of breakfast Michonne finally speaks and, as expected, says they want their weapons back.  The Governor replies they should stay a while and rest.  They'll get their weapons when they finally leave.  Hmmm…I’m starting to think they can’t leave.

We see the men from the National Guard convoy that helicopter guy left behind.  Governor waves a white flag as he drives up to their camp and says all the right things to take the guys off alert.  They’re happy to hear helicopter guy is ok.  Then the Governor shoots one guy in the head and it turns into a bloodbath.  Um, I’m guessing they killed these relatively healthy, military guys for their weapons.  Wow.  They could have been useful but maybe hard to control?  Alrighty.

Upon return to Woodbuy, the Governor stands on top of a vehicle and speechifies about how the “biters” had gotten to the men first but that the folks should be grateful for all the weapons and meds they were able to recover from their camp.  Yikes!  As he wanders off, Andrea asks his real name.  He says, “I never tell.”  She replies with a never say never quip and he says, “Never.”  Yup, chilling.  He goes home, pours a drink, ignores the naked chick in his bed, takes a long look at a picture of him with his wife and daughter and then enters a locked room.  He sits down, takes a drink and we see what he’s looking at…a wall of fish tanks filled with heads.  Lots and lots of “biter” heads.  Oh and the head of the rescued helicopter guy who hadn’t even turned yet.  Whoa.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

For a New Lost Generation

By Jonathan Alexandratos

My elementary school experience was both mentally and physically abusive.  Most days were a Venn Diagram of those two categories.  Seeing my second grade music teacher hurl a dry erase marker at us out of frustration: physical.  Overhearing my fourth grade teacher call us “a waste”: mental.  Being swatted in the head with my classroom-made hall pass by my fifth grade teacher because I didn’t put as many colors on it as the other students: both.  Being given up on, and relegated to remedial coursework, instead of imposing upon my teachers the descriptions of their jobs: mental.  The list goes on.  I won’t attempt to equivocate with phrases like “at least, that’s how I remember it,” or, “I could be wrong – I was young,” or, “others had it worse,” or, “I’m being too sensitive,” or, “maybe,” or “perhaps,” or “I think.”  Fuck it.  I know.  This is how it was.

What was propagated there was a system that almost ensures its own survival.  I have since felt anger toward a class of people, elementary educators, who are, surely, by-and-large, good, honest, well-intentioned, hard-working people, for no reason beyond the fact that abuse ensures that the fists of a few will silence the open palms of many.  It, abuse, further guarantees its longevity through convincing people, like the devil, that it isn’t there.  That the word is too harsh.  That it happens to other people.  What results is a generation of young people that must grow up with the notion that the world is what happens to other people, and has nothing to do with me.  It is a new Lost Generation that rests in the gap just after the last of the traditionalist educators – the spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child group who came of age under abuse that, while still being abuse, could hide in a crowd and find strength in numbers and the justification of “That’s what my teachers did…” – are on their way out, and the victims of this practice – if they have managed to claw their way out of a pit of self-worthlessness, stagnated learning, and a general hatred of the classroom – are on their way in, with the conviction never to repeat what was done to them.  Many of us never make it to the level of literacy expected by upper-level schools.  What’s worse, many of us never get to feel the excitement of cracking open a book, the awe of the fateful twist, the passion behind every fraction of every letter, the wide, dimension-shattering space that exists between words. 

And we don’t get to move to Paris.  We don’t get to eloquently explain our pasts.  We dwell in society, without a society.  We are the ones you don’t see, and don’t feel the need to teach.  We are the ones who put our heads down, and close our eyes, and make sure you have no idea what we’re dreaming.  We are the ones you wouldn’t bother making that reference to, because you somehow know we wouldn’t understand.  It has, in your eyes, nothing to do with me.

We are the abused who must both sit for the abuse, and wait to find out if what happened to us matches your father’s definition of the word.  This group is not - *not* - the only entity that can, or should, claim this; however, this is the only group for which I, from experience, can see just how much the song remains the same.  In our feelings that we do not own the world’s problems, we are often feel that we also do not own a voice about our own.  Because, of course, these problems have nothing to do with me.

In seeing wave after wave of the flashing screens of the 21st Century, we sit under a veritable ocean of distractions, for which the high watermark is still nowhere in sight.  The shockwaves of abuse do not, we feel, resound under water, under the 24/7 pharmacy of the Internet – but that should not stop us from pounding the wet sand, rattling the coral, and shouting to the smallest air bubble that we will not be a part of the lineage that abused us.  There are distractions, but they have nothing to do with me.

There are some on our side.  Some who even saw it coming.  Take a look at the documentary A TOUCH OF GREATNESS, about the 1960s-era elementary school teacher Albert Cullum, who never found a child he couldn’t teach.  Take a look at the 2005 Canadian film WHOLE NEW THING, about a young boy’s need to preserve his identity in a classroom, and a town, that preys on difference.  I will leave the plot details a mystery, as they’re best unwrapped and discovered and felt without introduction.  They are best experienced the same way many of you will experience many of us: in a room with frost-covered windows, where we’re alone, together.  Where, it turns out, that the bullied and the bully find out, years later, they were both looking for the same love.  Where the tables have not turned, but merged.  Where we discover that, as Don Grant of WHOLE NEW THING proclaims, “Everything is a love song.”  That is, if we survive long enough to make it that far.  Sure, there are differences between you and me, pasts that have come and gone, apologies that may never mean a thing, and apologists that downplay themselves for something unknowable, but they, in this moment, have nothing to do with me.

But until that moment comes, we are lost between a generation who would insist that the abuse we suffered was a “rite of passage,” or because “boys will be boys,” or because it was “God’s will,” and an imperfect generation who must reinvent the wheel, with plenty creating oblong shapes that get us nowhere.  However, there will come a day where we will invent something that rolls us all forward.  And plenty will offer reasons not to go, not to move past a history for which nostalgia has whitewashed violence.  But these reasons will have nothing to do with me. 

Jonathan draws Mythos I, lecture 2

Impressed your friends and humiliated your enemies with your knowledge of Joseph Campbell's Mythos 1, lecture 1? Ready for more? Enjoy Jonathan's wicked cool rendition of lecture 2!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pontypool: The Talking Dead

With apologies to Chris Hardwick, but I couldn't resist. This 2008 microbudget Canadian horror flick is a nice creepy way to kick off Halloween, and it streams! Pontypool is a small town in Ontario, where everyone knows each other, and the local morning DJ Grant Mazzy (who looks like a craggier Willem Defoe, if that's possible) reports the traffic, obits, and lost pet stories as he heartily spikes his morning coffee and spars with his producer, Sydney. Except this Valentine's Day, Ken the traffic reporter (whose "chopper" is a Dodge parked on a hill) starts to talk of "herds" of people roaming the town, hunting and devouring other citizens.

The entirety of the action takes place over ten or so hours in the tiny church basement while Grant continues to try to broadcast the developing catastrophe and figure out what is happening outside and upstairs. The claustrophobic setting works well, as eye-witness descriptions of ravening humans tend to be more frightening than the images themselves. Though you will get a bit of that, as the not-quite-zombie hordes center in on the radio station. And about that ontological ambiguity . . .

One of my pet peeves about The Walking Dead is that no one, after learning of a mysterious plague that causes the dead to rise and feast on the living, says, "Oh, like zombies?" Pontypool avoids this blind spot by making the monsters not quite zombies. And the explanation for the horror is actually pretty clever and satirical. I won't give it away here, but rest assured, English majors will enjoy it.

Editorializing - crappy weekends

Periodically I have these times where I just want to stay in, curl up and read a book or watch some tv, maybe organize my recipe binders, and definitely eat lots of chocolate.  Actually, I’d have to say this kind of weekend probably comes around once a month.  This is one of those weekends.  I can typically try to avoid the chocolate part of the equation but as this is the weekend before Halloween there is candy everywhere.  It’s not my fault I shop early for holidays.  This just means I’ll have to replace it.  Oy.

I swing from mood to mood during this kind of weekend.  Sometimes I want action or horror.  I want to see lots of blood spilled and heads blown up or ripped off.  Then sometimes I want pure and unabashed romance.  I want to see bold declarations of love, both requited and unrequited. 

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic this weekend so maybe I’ll watch some old favorites to see if they stand the test of time.  Actually, whether movies hold up over time has been a post knocking around in my brain for a while.  This could be good research.  Hey, now I’m not being lazy or anti-social.  I’m being productive!

I’ve got it!  I’m gonna catch up on True Blood.  I’ve got season 4 and 5 to watch, which will probably get me through the whole weekend.  That’s perfect.  Lots of blood, not a lot of romance and I’m in a total hate-watching mood. I hear season 4 is perfect for hate-watching! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Nashville: Sex and Music City

Scarlett and bartender dude.
So now that I've given up my foolish feminista dream that this show might be interested in saying something about women and power, I could fully enjoy this week's episode, not least because it's declaring the show's interest in sex and power. And art. Promising!

So all of the artistic collaborations in this episode are shown to be fueled by, inspired by, or complicated by sex. Not quite the same as gender, but I'll take it. Deacon the Crinkly-Eyed Saint of Songwriting continues to be the shiny toy that both Rayna and Juliette want for their very own. Juliette duets with him and beds him, and Rayna admits that for her, he and music are the same thing, and she still loves them both. This idea of art and sex being indistinguishable from each other is a provocative one, considering all the duets that Nashville features.

Speaking of, after Scarlett chokes during her recording session with the bartender dude from the Bluebird, Lucky from General Hospital (eventually I will get these names down) somehow convinces her that she can only sing if he's in the recording studio. Ew, but at least thematically consistent with the rest of the show, and, as it turns out, accurate. She belts out a killer rendition of a sexy duet whilst locking eyes with Lucky behind the soundboard, which, to be thematically consistent with the rest of the show, I guess we can think of as a threesome.

We also find out that Rayna's mother carried on a long-time affair with one of her artistic collaborators, introducing the theme of mommy issues (at least it's a switch from daddy issues) also shared by Juliet. Her oxy-head mom shows up and takes refuge in her daughter's McMansion, prompting a little episode of Winona Ryder Commemorative Shoplifting . . . that is caught on cell phone camera by one of Rayna's daughters. Somebody get Gawker on the line!

Really pleased now that I can just relax and enjoy Nashville for the sexy soap that it is, and not bash it for the progressive gender text that it is not.

Problems with the poster - A Good Day to Die Hard

No.  Just...no.  Absolutely not.

Now I love me some Bruce Willis.  And, after viewing the trailer, I think this will be a good installment of the Die Hard franchise.  But "YIPPEE KI-YAY MOTHER RUSSIA?"  No.  Nope.  Definitely no. In their defense, there's no doubt what movie this is for but I just can't...  I...  [sigh]  No.

Trailer Park

Oh how I love Fridays.  I'm guessing y'all have already seen the Iron Man 3 trailer but it's worth posting anyway.  I've got a few documentaries in here too and they'll be at the end. 

Lay the Favorite - Oh yeah.  I'm gonna love this.

A Good Day to Die Hard - Ok, I'm totally in. Excellent use of music in a trailer too.  

Evil Dead - I can't say it enough RED BAND!  Please be aware that this trailer is pretty rough. 
Have I mentioned that the original was my first horror movie? It's haunted me ever since. 
I think this one would haunt me too.

Safe Haven- How about a little Nicholas Sparks palate cleanser after Evil Dead?

Iron Man 3 - Everyone should have seen this by now, right? 

Empires of the Deep - this movie has suffered lots of problems.  
It looks cool but I'm guessing it will be a bust.

A Haunted House - How has it taken the Wayans this long to parody the Paranormal Activity franchise?

Save the Date - I'm absolutely going to love this movie. I just know it.

Dragon - This looks cool.

Carrie - Just a teaser trailer but an effective one. 
I can't wait to see Julianne Moore as the mother.

And now the documentaries:

Rising from Ashes - This looks pretty uplifting

High Ground - I really hope this plays on IMAX. Also I really hope I remember to bring tissues.

Margaret: A gritty reboot of Gerard Manley Hopkins

"Margaret, are you grieving over Goldengrove unleaving?" This opening line to one of my favorite poems gives the slightly messy Margaret, playwright and writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's follow-up to the wonderful You Can Count on Me, its structure and thematic cohesion. The poem (give it a re-read--it's lovely and seasonal), addressed to a young girl mourning the falling of the autumn leaves, argues for not only the inevitability of loss, but also the inevitable loss of the capacity to hurt as deeply as children do (or can). It's like in The Sound and the Fury when Mr. Compson tells Quentin that what grieves his son about losing his sister is that "you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this now." And of course that was also about incest and a conversation that might not have actually taken place and I haven't even talked about the movie yet. So.

Margaret follows Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin, making you forget how annoying she is as Sookie), a privileged Manhattan teenager whose blithe self-centeredness and faith in her own precocity is not so much destroyed, but rather distorted and deformed, by a horrific bus accident for which she blames herself. This trauma occurs in the first twenty minutes or so of the film, and the remaining two-plus hours keep a very tight focus on Lisa as she attempts to numb her suffering through drugs, sex, anger, and a self-righteous crusade to punish the driver of the bus (Mark Ruffalo, briefly glimpsed, but haunting). 

The movie isn't easy--to watch, to categorize, or to deem entirely successful. Margaret was filmed in 2005 and only came out last year due to editing troubles. Those troubles were not completely solved. For a story with this much emotional rawness, any problem with pacing is going to feel either abusive or neglectful towards the audience and characters, and Margaret flirts with both. There are also at least one too many subplots and Jean Reno's character--a Colombian businessman romancing Lisa's mother--manages to be both under and overused. But it's still worth watching.

The film is ambivalent about the power of fiction to explain or account for suffering. Movies are described as "bullshit," but also as a reliable model for translating lived experience into language. The nature of "drama" is also very much in contention, with Lisa's mother in a stage play that is popular but predictable and safe, and Lisa herself constantly being accused of being "too dramatic." I think that the film's final scene, in which Lisa is able to connect with her deep reservoir of grief--for herself, for the accident, for the inescapability of loss--at the opera, gestures towards a way that performance can serve as a conduit for, and objective correlative of, the type of losses that cannot be adequately captured in words.

Margaret is described as a "post-9/11" film, which is most assuredly is, both in chronology and in its treatment of grief. Though the attack dances on the edges of the script--a few heated debates in Lisa's civics class, a barely overheard reference to Ground Zero--it is impossible to think of Lisa's experience with trauma--abrupt, unfair, unjustifiable, and brutally violent--without thinking of 9/11 as an analogue. But what I found most interesting about Margaret was the way it imagines the human response to a world where suffering cannot be avoided. Hopkins's poem implies that loss is as impossible to resist as the seasons, but Lisa struggles against that reality mightily, trying through punishing the driver to retcon her own complicity in the accident. She is grieving for herself, as the titular Margaret does, and that impulse is treated as deeply human, deeply immature and deeply pointless. But is a bus accident different than 9/11? Is 9/11 different than a twelve-year-old dying of leukemia (another incidence of loss in the film)? And if they are (and I think they are), is the human response always the same? Paquin's performance is so overwhelming (in a good way), that other attempts to work through grief get lost in her (can't resist) sound and fury.