Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hysteria: A Review (Review #466)


There is nothing funnier than Victorians and Sex.  We all know, after all, that the British who lived under Queen Victoria never had sex themselves.  Such things as homosexuality, menage a trois, and even how babies came into the world was something completely unknown to them.  As far as Victorians were aware, babies were grown in the garden, dusted off, and presented to unwilling parents.

This is how WE, with our ominsexual heroesGlees, Sister Wives, and bordeline 'bestiality is cool' world imagine our great-great-grandparents lived.  In reality, the Young Victoria delighted in sex.  After being told that she could no longer bear children without risk, she matter-of-factly asked, "Does this mean I won't have any more fun in bed?"  Hysteria, which is about the creation of the vibrator, takes a deliberately quirky take on the subject.  Giggles abound in this tale of how a remarkably forward-thinking but still proper Victorian gentleman found himself the creator of the most auto-erotic device ever brought forward.

Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a man far ahead of his time.  He knows bacteria kills, and that good handwashing is essential to proper medical care.  For this, he's fired (yet again) from a hospital.  No doctor or hospital will have him...except one.  Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) takes a shine to him, and the fact that he is in dire need of an assitant to his bulging practice also helps Granville's case.  Dr. Dalrymple is a leading expert on the women's disease known as 'hysteria'.  Dalrymple has come up with a unique treatment which is still practiced today: a specific scientific method today called 'fingering'.  OUr Victorian ladies find instant relief from all ailments thanks to the good doctor, and now Granville finds himself in high demand for his delicate touch.

One lady who doesn't suffer from hysteria is Dr. Dalrymple's daughter Emily (Felicity Jones).  She is the model of a Victorian lady: demure, properly behaved, but also quite the intellectual.  She is an expert on the science phrenology.  Granville and Emily soon start a tentative romance, highly encouraged by her father, who now sees Granville as a potential heir. 

As for his other daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), well, the good doctor doesn't care for her settlement house/suffragette/working-class supporting work.  SHE is not a lady, and she might even be suffering from hysteria herself.  While Granville continues his success, Charlotte continues her own socialist work.  However, eventually Granville is no longer able to handle his practice, and a disappointed Dalrymple has to dismiss him.

Granville, not willing to give up Emily, finds that perhaps an electric massager would put him back in the doctor's good graces.  With some help/inspiration from his friend and benefactor Edmund St. John Smythe (Rupert Everett) he reconfigures one of St. John Smythe's machines and electric massager.  The test it out on the Darlrymple's sassy lower-class ex-prostitute maid Molly (Sheridan Smith), who declares it a rip-roaring success.  Soon, Dr. Dalrymple is taken by the machine, and everyone wins.

Except Charlotte.  She continues her work despite Dr. Dalrymple's objections, and when he manages to take her settlement house from under her, she ends up punching a policeman.  Dalrymple believes his daughter is permanently lost to her hysteria, but in the end, Granville testifies that she is nothing more than a progressive woman, not crazy.  She's still locked up (she did punch a policeman) but in the end, Mortimer and Charlotte realize they were meant for each other. 

Hysteria plays with the ideas we have about the Victorians (how stuffy and almost ignorant they were about sex) and takes a lighthearted take on the subject.  Hugh Dancy makes Granville both a man frustrated by the backward nature of the medical profession but also someone in his own way quite innocent when it comes to the pleasures of the flesh.  Dancy makes Granville one who is both a man who thinks greatly but who also is properly Victorian: respectful, not given to emotional outbursts, and both befuddled but accepting of his new medical practice.

Pryce is perfectly suited to Dr. Dalrymple, a man who truly believes his own oddball medical theories.  Never once does Dalrymple ever question either the logic of his beliefs or that there could be any suggestion that his treatments were indecent to say the least.  Pryce plays it straight (which he can't say for Tomorrow Never Dies, but that's another matter).

Gyllenhaal's British accent never fails, and Charlotte is a delight: bright, unafraid of life, and one who despite the limitations placed on her continues to keep to her path.  Equally good is Jones as her polar opposite sister.  While Emily might have come off as dim, Jones makes her into a woman with a mind, but one spent on a quackery that equals her father's.

Steven and Jonah Lisa Dyer's screenplay and story (from Howard Gensler's original story) never turned the people into idiots.  Far from it: Hysteria seems to have nothing but genuine love for those in our story, in their curious worldview, in their slow understanding that people do find pleasure in sex, and in their own encounters with beliefs that differ from their own.  Director Tanya Wexler guides the story mixing accidental sexual hijinks with a genuinely sweet love story between Granville and both Emily and Charlotte (depending on when he realizes whom he's in love with).

Hysteria is a sweet romantic comedy where the laughs come from the blending of Victorian propriety and the beginning of sexual awakening.  It moves well and its story is played both straight and for laughs.  It's a nice, simple story.

Besides, when has it not been funny seeing old ladies climax?     

Dr. Mortimer Granville


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Elementary: Lesser Evils Review


Nursing Holmes

Lesser Evils, the Elementary episode following the brilliant The Rat Race, certainly had its work cut out for it.  The series has been growing in establishing the characters of and relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Joan Watson.  Up till now, Elementary had been taking more time focusing on Holmes' methodology in solving crimes, but Lesser Evils now turns our attention to Watson's backstory. This is the first Elementary episode where both her medical knowledge and her struggle over her previous career as a doctor are presented as vital to the story.  In short, Joan Watson starts to, if not take center stage, at least become as important to the overall series as her more celebrated partner.

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is indulging his study of chocking by working on corpses in a hospital morgue.  His sober companion Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) goes along with it in the 'if it keeps him out of trouble' school of thought.  Holmes can work there because the morgue attendant is a mutual beekeeper.  However, as they're about to leave Holmes, then Watson, note something's off with one of the recently deceased.  Holmes rushes to the dead man's hospital room, where he finds enough to suspect (with Watson confirming through her medical training) that the man was murdered.

Holmes' actions (such as locking himself in the dead man's room) forces the intervention of Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn), who believes Holmes is on to something. However, to get the hospital's cooperation, Gregson forces Holmes to apologize to the director (which we don't see, alas).  At the hospital Watson encounters Dr. Carrie Dwyer (Anika Noni Rose), a former colleague and friend with whom she has lost contact with.  We learn that her suspension was temporary, but Watson for her own reasons opted to let her medical licence lapse.

Holmes and Watson soon track down the last person to see the dead man alive, and Holmes soon makes the connection between his death and that of others with similar characteristics: terminal, with no family.  They suspect an Angel of Death, one who kills dying patients, is working at the hospital.  With the help of Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) we track down some likely suspects.  Among them are medical student Dr. Cahill (Ben Rappaport) and Dr. Baldwin (David Harbour), a high-ranking official.  As the investigation continues we find the actual killer isn't either of them.  Dr. Cahill, facing problems of his own, unwittingly leads them down the right path to the actual killer.

While the finding of the killer is logical, Holmes is not convinced the case is not over based on the fact that one of the victims, Miss Cropsey, was not dying but was in fact recovering from her surgery.  Why, Holmes asks, would the Angel of Death kill someone he knew was actually not dying?  The answer is simple: the Angel was deceived.  Someone else had discovered there was this Angel, and took advantage by faking evidence to get rid of Miss Cropsey to cover up his own incompetence.  Unluckily for the murderer, the Angel had taken detailed notes of all his victims, and that includes photos of the falsified records.

Watson, in a subplot, notices one of Dwyer's patients might have a heart condition that could make surgery deadly.  Dwyer doesn't believe it, but a mysterious figured had ordered a test that proved Watson was right.  Dwyer is not amused.  Lesser Evils ends with Watson looking at old photos of her time as a doctor with Dwyer and their coworkers.  Watson, after a bit of struggle, deletes them.

Watson's story in Lesser Evils is more dominant than it has been than at any time in Elementary's run.  We have glimpses into her past via Dwyer, we catch glimpses into her future when she starts removing memories of her medical training, we rely on Watson's medical expertise to solve the crime, we even rely on Watson being a woman to find an important witness.  It's Watson, not Holmes, that realizes that the description from the flirtatious barista of a 'sexy doctor' wasn't an actual doctor but a perfume salesgirl wearing the vendor's coat.

Liu has never been better, and just as The Rat Race was a showcase for Miller, Lesser Evils is similarly a showcase for Liu.  Whether she wishes to think of herself as Lead Actress (which I think she is) or Supporting (as Watson usually is), Lesser Evils is Liu's strongest performance to date.  Watson had two stories running through the episode.  There was the actual investigation, and here she was Holmes' equal if not superior because her medical knowledge was vital to him putting things together.  In fact, she came to conclusions faster than Holmes merely because her knowledge in medicine and its effects is wider and deeper than his.

It is the secondary story, that of Watson finding herself in her old environment with old friends, that is the emotional heart of Lesser Evils.  It is her conflict between being able to heal versus her fears of harming that drives the subplot.  She's not enthusiastic about being able to return (which she technically can) but she also sees that Dwyer might be in danger of repeating her own mistakes.  She reminds Dwyer when she comes to confront Watson about whoever ordered the second test that confirmed Watson's diagnosis that their professor once told them that it was "better to be lucky than good".  Dwyer, thanks to Watson, was lucky...luckier than Watson.  Dwyer still isn't happy, telling her old friend that Watson was a better doctor than friend.

Of course, while Liu got the lion's share of the story Miller was in no way diminished.  In his scenes, he got a rather comic take on things.  While waiting to interview a barista, Holmes expresses his displeasure over the outlandish coffee orders.  "These coffee orders," he snipes. "The Magna Carta was less complicated."  He also has another comic moment when he undermines Detective Bell's gentle approach in interviewing Dr. Cahill by basically saying Bell wasn't actually 'the good cop'.

What Liz Friedman's script does well in regards to the mystery is that she allows Holmes and Watson to work out the patterns in the deaths bit by bit.  They don't just get there by getting lucky or finding a sudden clue or witness.  With the exception of how the story begins (Holmes noticing something is off with the latest victim's corpse), everything in Lesser Evils builds bit by bit.  We do unfortunately have the return of the CSI-style of showing clues, though that was kept at a minimum.  I figure that this will simply be part of Elementary, so I should just get used to it.

One thing that I wasn't thrilled over was the lack of screen-time for Anika Noni Rose.  She is the first name guest star to have a significant role in Elementary, but her Dr. Dwyer (while never a suspect herself), simply didn't play as much a part of the episode as I would have wished.  Still, one hopes that Dr. Dwyer will make a return appearance...

Our other guest stars were quite good.  Rappaport's Cahill had the hallmarks of a potential killer with his nervous movements, but instead it was something else that troubled him.  Harbour's Baldwin has moments when we like him (as when he barely suppresses laughter when Holmes mocks the hospital administrator's height by asking if the much taller Baldwin is there to reach high things for the hospital director), and moments when we don't (such as when he tells Holmes he really isn't all that interested in the pain his patients feel or don't feel).

Colin Bucksey directed the emotional scenes and the mystery with equal respect, neither too broad or too serious.  The funny moments (all involving Holmes) never overshadowed the dramatic moments (usually involving Watson).

I'd argue that Rose wasn't featured enough (it might have been nice to see more of the interaction between Dwyer and Watson outside the investigation or the hospital), but minus that Lesser Evils had a logical solution to the mystery where the clues came in through a methodical process and gave us one last twist that brought things home. 

Lesser Evils is by no means a lesser Elementary episode.       

True Partners in Crime


Next Episode: Flight Risk

Brave (2012): A Review


There's No Heart In It...

I have never given much thought to the idea that PIXAR never had a female lead in any of their animated films.  Brave is an effort to rectify this, to allow girls to have their own heroines in this male-dominated world.  Brave is a good effort, and it has some beautiful aspects to it.  However, I found it a great disappointment, a bit boring, and while everyone gave it their best shot it fails to be anything other than a minor PIXAR work that will eventually be merchandised away from whatever proto-feminist message it attempted to sell.

Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a wild Scottish lass, the oldest of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor's (Emma Thompson) children.  She loves riding, shooting arrows, a true Warrior Princess.  Queen Elinor, however, spends her time telling her daughter what a princess "doesn't" do, which is just about everything Merida does and enjoys. 

As it stands, Merida now must marry, and Merida is furious.  The clans come to claim the Princess' hand: the eldest sons of Clan Dingwall, MacGuffin, and Macintosh.  As Merida is forced from her free-flowing (but still elegant) dresses to something more constrictive, she is highly angered at being married off when all she wants to do is run wild and free through the Highlands.  However, she thinks she's found a loophole: the eldest child who wins at a selected competition can win her hand.  As she is the eldest child, she shocks the Scots by claiming her own hand...and winning.

She so infuriates her mother that Merida slashes a tapestry of her with her parents, then runs off.  Merida encounters a witch (Julie Walters) who gives her the power to change her mother via a cake.  Merida returns and offers an unsuspecting Queen said cake, and she is turned into a bear.  From there, they find the only way to reverse the spell is to mend the bond.

Eventually the clans are coming close to all-out war over Merida's acts, Merida and Mother Bear realize the value each other have, the Queen is turned back to human form and the evil bear-monster Mor'du is defeated.

Truth be told by the time we discover that the Witch has gone away to some fair (and leaves the medieval version of a call center message), I lost interest with Brave.  I was fighting sleep to try to keep watching, and I think it has to do with the story.  Brave managed to violate one of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking: There Should Be a Maximum of Three Screenwriters.  Co-directors Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, and Brenda Chapman, along with Irene Mecchi, hammered away at a story that did two things wrong in my view.

The first is that it gave us no real sympathetic characters to which we would care about.  Merida was not this feisty, fiery Scottish lass.  She was really this perennial whiner, constantly belittling her mother's thoughts and running to her weak daddy to side with her.  In many ways, I found Merida rather unlikable: a girl who doesn't care about anyone other than herself and who thinks rudeness to her parents is a virtue.

That isn't to say I found Elinor sympathetic either.  She never bothered to explain to her daughter why certain things were good and others bad.  Instead, she seemed determined to merely snap at Merida at the slightest infraction, almost with delight sometimes.  Obviously these two would not win Mother or Daughter of the Year. 

One wonders why Merida would be so willing to give Elinor that cake that would change her mother.  What if it had changed her into a ghost?  Merida seems almost more monstrous than Mor'du, so when Elinor is turned into a bear it seems surprising given how Merida is that she wouldn't be anything but thrilled.  They never showed that they liked each other, let alone loved each other, so once we get the "forced to be together" business, it all rang fake with me.

In short, Brave was not subtle about Merida's rebellion from being a 'princess' in the traditional sense, and given that this is Scotland we're talking about, I do wonder why her parents wouldn't be thrilled in having a Warrior Princess.  The surprise would have come from having a demure girl I would have imagined.    

The second mistake as I see it is that the story seemed to go all over the place.  Somehow, it all was running pretty low on steam when Merida's encounter with the Witch (which couldn't decide if it was suppose to be menacing or comical) ended, so the entire bear sequence appeared tacked on.  Worse, the encounter with Mor'du seemed also there merely to stretch the story and give Merida both an antagonist and a danger.

Why introduce the witch if we're going to send her away?  Furthermore, having her ask that if they wish to listen to her message in Gaelic, pour the second bottle into the caldron just smacks of trying too hard to be contemporary and medieval at the same time.  Things like that don't appear funny...cute, perhaps, but not funny.

Finally, I confess to finding Merida's voice-over more grating than informative.  Of course, I'm not a fan of voice-overs in general, but in Brave, I think we could have dispensed with it altogether.

I compliment Brave on being a beautiful looking film, and Patrick Doyle's highly effective Scottish-influenced score is top-notch.

On the whole, Brave is beautiful visually and with a beautiful score, but I found it a bit dull and weak.  The message that I think Brave was trying to send (Girls Can Do It Too), I figure will so be displaced with little girls dressing like the Princess, with their bows and arrows but still in lovely gowns.  Hopefully they won't pick up Merida's rather harsh manner with their own parents.

Kids will probably be dazzled with its look, but for me, Brave lacked the courage of the convictions it was trying to send.      


Monday, November 26, 2012

Elementary: The Rat Race Review


Banking, Savings and Holmes

Elementary has been a good show, growing in its weaving of the Arthur Conan Doyle source material with what is a CBS-style procedural (dead body, investigation, case solved with character development thrown in).  The Rat Race is the best Elementary episode so far: a brilliant mixing of the mystery-of-the-week with equal emphasis on the characters where neither the case or the characters are short-changed.  In fact, The Rat Race is so strong with character development that it increases our interest in following not just the cases, but their lives and interactions.

Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) has been missing for more than three hours.  This alarms his sober companion Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) so much that she is forced to tell Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn) about Holmes' drug addiction.  Watson fears he might have relapsed, especially in light of what occurred two days prior, at the beginning of a new case.

Gregson had referred a major Wall Street firm to Holmes to help find a missing COO.  Holmes, who has nothing but contempt for bankers (so, he's a bit of an off his daddy's largess), goes to investigate.  Holmes quickly finds the banker procures high-end hookers (Client #12?) and then finds his 'love nest'.  Unfortunately, he also finds the banker dead, apparently of a heroin overdose.

The heroin is dangerous for a recovering addict like Sherlock Holmes, but being himself, he won't talk about it.  This case, to Holmes' mind, is not as simple as an accidental overdose.  He's convinced not only that the banker's been murdered, but thanks to the widow's off-hand comment, that being COO is a deadly job.  Noting that more than a few board members have met curious deaths, Holmes is convinced there's a serial killer among them.

Holmes hits on a few likely suspects but then finds the actual killer, who in a surprising turn actually takes Holmes by surprise for once: tasering him while confronting the killer.  And by now we get back to Watson and Gregson, with the former highly concerned over Holmes' whereabouts.  Holmes comes very close to danger, but an insignificant mistake from the killer involving a false text message alerts Watson and Gregson to his true danger.

Holmes is rescued, and he does what he normally doesn't do: hand out compliments to Watson (albeit slightly backhanded) and expresses something close to apologies to Gregson for not informing him about his drug addiction.  Gregson tells him he'd already known Holmes had been in rehab long before Watson told him, but that he was just waiting for Holmes to tell him in his own time.

The Rat Race is the episode Jonny Lee Miller should send if he wants to be nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmy Award.  Simply put, this is Miller's best performance in Elementary so far.  We've already established Holmes' quirky speaking style and his casual disregard for polite behavior, but in The Rat Race we get the deepest revelation to Holmes' person.  At times, it is intentional:  he shows a respect for Watson as both an intellect (in both a professional and personal capability) but also shows a remarkably humble, almost apologetic side with Gregson.  Up to now Sherlock Holmes has never appeared vulnerable, in fact, almost priding himself on being a bit aloof towards everyone.  However, in his scene with Quinn, Miller reflected a conflicted man: between his admission to himself that perhaps he does need others, and the recognition that he has been less than honest with someone whom he works with (maybe even respects).

A curious bit about The Rat Race is that it also reveals something about Sherlock Holmes that we've known but never really thought about: his ego can put him in danger.  The killer, when confronted, does something that takes Holmes by shock...literally.  He's tasered, which is something that takes him completely by surprise.  Despite deducing the killer's identity, the killer so quickly surmises Holmes' need to show-off that it is used against him.  This I think is the first time Holmes has confronted a suspected killer alone and without telling anyone, and more than anything else, it shows that Sherlock Holmes is not invulnerable.  In fact, it shows that even he sometimes makes unwitting mistakes.

Liu also has brilliant moments as Watson.  There is a subplot about her being set up with a man, and we see that Watson is able to make deductions about her date that perhaps she might not have if not for her time with Holmes.  The personal life of Joan Watson is not a hindrance or a part of the case, but it also never intrudes into the case either.  One thing that is nice about The Rat Race is that the story acknowledges Watson's Asian heritage without comment.  When Holmes is investigating a previous COO's death, it involves speaking with the Chinese chef who had prepared his last meal (the victim having died from a reaction to the peanut dressing surreptitiously added).  Watson asks Holmes if he speaks Mandarin.  "Not as well as I'd like," he replies.  When Holmes asks Watson the same, she replies, "Not as well as my mother would like."

In short, Joan Watson is presented as being able to keep up with Holmes.  She won't be either the stooge in the Nigel Bruce style or just his sidekick.  Instead, Watson will be if not his equal at least someone who can arrive at correct conclusions, if not as quickly as Holmes.

Finally, I have to look at Aidan Quinn.  The interplay between Gregson and Holmes is both comic (as when a horrified Gregson hints that Holmes ought to be quiet when he's questioning the widow) and that of a true friend.  Gregson is nobody's fool, and Quinn makes him into a bright man (one who had checked up on Holmes long before he started working with him) but also something that Sherlock hasn't had: the closest thing to a genuine friend.

As for the story itself, Craig Sweeney's screenplay is an exercise in intellectual honesty.  The Rat Race goes from clue to clue, without becoming outlandish or a mere coincidence that something was found.  Holmes uses his powerful abilities to find suspects and patterns in the crimes, finding the right person who is connected to all the pieces, and introducing things that will point us in the right direction.  In other Elementary episodes, we get this vaguely CSI look (bright green that shows us clues that we either passed by too quickly or weren't shown at all), but The Rat Race does something I hope they do more often.  They actually give us the clues and how Holmes processes them.  Therefore, we can similarly deduce the killer's identity at the same time.

Sweeney's screenplay also keeps a great balance between the crime and the character's personal lives.  Watson's thwarted romance is a realistic one, where we see the character's evolution.  Holmes also is literally confronted with his own drug-fueld past, which serves two purposes: it allows Watson to draw more clues about Holmes' pre-rehab drug meltdown (which he stubbornly refuses to discuss) and forces Holmes to deal with the effects his addiction have caused on those around him (Watson's employment as his sober companion, Gregson's duties as a police captain to ensure professionals work with his department). 

The Rat Race doesn't throw us false or misleading clues.  When we encounter a clue, we are either later given evidence that confirms the direction or disproves a false hypothesis but still leads us in the right direction.

All these elements are brought together with the simply brilliant direction of Rosemary Rodriguez.  She kept the story moving steadily, never allowed the Watson romance subplot or the murder investigation to overshadow the other, and drew some simply excellent performances from her cast (both leads and guest stars).

The Rat Race is the best Elementary episode we've had, and has pushed the series into something that both compliments the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories and expands on its own versions of the characters of Holmes and Watson.  We get insights into their personal lives while getting an intelligent crime story.  From the opening where we think Holmes might have relapsed to the conclusion where Holmes is shown as a flawed and vulnerable man, The Rat Race has brought Elementary's Sherlock Holmes of age, away from any shadow from other series, as its own unique version of the iconic detective.

Benedict Who? 


Next Episode: Lesser Evils

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bond Girls On Film: The Ten Worst Bond Girls

Well, no one is perfect.  In all our lives, we've met people whom we regret getting involved with, sometimes personally, sometimes romantically.  These personages we wish we'd never met and hope to outlive so as to wear bright colors at their funerals, maybe do a jig upon their graves. 

In regards to the former, the names Ken, Brad and Robert come to my mind (though another is fast entering that list, an Occupier who thinks himself a genius and like all good Occupiers, is so tolerant he won't tolerate any dissent or even jokes about his proletariat movement). 

I'm sure the feeling is mutual. 

In the case of the latter, well, that's a secret to protect their identity.  There is nothing more tedious than hearing a guy rant about his exes, especially on a blog.

James Bond 007 is no exception to bad relationships.  He's had his share of bad Bond Girls, some dumb, some useless, some pretty but thin in terms of talent, all lowly regarded.  Beauty is no defense against an absolute lack acting talent (just ask Channing Tatum). 

With that, I give my Ten Worst Primary Bond Girls.

10.) Tanya (From Russia With Love)

Oh, I don't think Tatiana "Tanya" Romanova is really all that bad.  She just happened to end up at the Top of the Bottom List.  She sacrifices herself for Stalin and Country, and this selection might be the only one that I could be talked out of. 

Again, I can't say she is's just that both Solitarie and Octopussy scored higher, so poor Tanya was pushed down by default.  In my defense, I don't think she overpowered the screen either.

09.) Jinx (Die Another Day)

Here, I have no doubt: Halle Berry was hideous in Die Another Day.  Certainly not hideous to look at, but hideous in terms of what is generally called 'acting'.

Berry is a curiousity in the realm of Bond Girls: both an Oscar-winner and a generally bad actress.  What can one say about an actress who is remembered more for Catwoman than she is for Monster's Ball, more for getting paid half a million dollars to bare her breasts in Swordfish than being the first African-American woman to win a Best Lead Actress Academy Award?

One can blame the script all they want (and yes, it is a pretty lousy script) but some of the blame has to go to Berry.  The double-entendres were forced, she looked as if she didn't know what was going on (well, at least she was with the audience in that), and no one bought for a minute that she was some sort of covert agent herself. 

There was talk of giving Jinx her own spin-off, but that's like giving River Song from Doctor Who her own spin-off: a dumb (in every sense of the word) character who gains inexplicable popularity.  How else to explain this...

I sure do pity the fool...wait a minute.
Is that on their upper LEG?
What, are they DUMB or something?!

08.) Domino (Thunderball)

Bless Claudine Auger...yes, she's beautiful, but like Channing Tatum not a hint of emotion came from her Domino. 

Think on it: her brother was murdered by her lover, but it somehow doesn't seem to register.  Domino is a remarkably passive and weak person.  That in itself could be forgiven, it it were played convincingly.  However, Domino looked borderline catatonic in Thunderball, almost drugged.  A man was shot with a harpoon in front of her, and she doesn't appear to react.  It was a bored, dull performance, but it was virtually a Method Master Class compared to...


07.) Domino (Never Say Never Again)

...the remake version of Domino in the remake of Thunderball.  Here is another case of an Oscar-winning actress who is considered a bad actress (or is it a bad actress that managed to win an Oscar, although in her defense Kim Basinger gave a brilliant performance in L.A. Confidential...or at least better than Old Whore, I mean Rose, from Titanic).

Perhaps it's just the character of Domino.  Maybe no actress could make this passive, dim, almost unbearably stupid woman interesting.  Basinger looked even more out-of-it than Auger: blank, expressing nothing.  When Largo is slapping her around, it doesn't appear even that will wake her up.

06.) Dr. Holly Goodhead (Moonraker)

Here's proof positive that one can have a provocative name (although I don't see what's so provocative about Holly) and have a simply terrible Bond Girl.

Lois Chiles looks bored in Moonraker.  She is suppose to be a brilliant NASA-level scientist/astronaut/CIA agent, but she doesn't convince anyone that she is smart enough to realize Bond isn't just some crazy dude following her around.  Chiles appears to show only one expression throughout the film: contempt.  She doesn't want to be there, she just wants to get it over with, and she's not going to bother pretending she's enjoying any of what she considers nonsense. 

If anything, I'd guess based on her performance in Moonraker that Chiles simply thinks she is above the material.  I'm one of Moonraker's defenders as just a good time, but Chiles looked dumb, bored, and her complete lack of chemistry with Roger Moore makes it even more painful.  When she says, "Take me around the world one more time," she looks as if she's coming out of hypnosis while saying it.  For a film as derided as Moonraker, Chiles gives one of the worst performances in film; not just in a James Bond film, but in film generally.

Finally, I confess to rewinding a scene with Chiles, where Bond grabs her in the dark.  Her facial expression of "shock" is even funnier than anything involving Jaws and his Little Swiss Miss girlfriend. 

05.) Mary Goodnight (The Man With the Golden Gun)

There's nothing wrong with Britt Ekland as an actress (see The Wicker Man...and her dance of seduction).  There's certainly nothing wrong with Britt Ekland in a bikini.  There is something wildly wrong with Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Goodnight is among the dumbest Bond Girls in the entire franchise, a woman so shockingly inept she makes Maxwell Smart LOOK like James Bond.  She manages to get herself locked in the villain's trunk while holding valuable information and is genuinely shocked, SHOCKED, when she realizes Bond can't find her.  She is so dumb she doesn't appear able to leave the wardrobe Bond has put her in so as he could have some sexy-time with Miss Anders.  One would almost feel sorry for her (since she obviously is half a brain short of being a half-wit) but Goodnight quickly makes you root against her. 

Even worse, she is frightened of the midget Henchman Nick Nack.  Maybe it was all meant to be a big joke...then it would have worked beautifully.  Otherwise, Say Goodnight, Mary...


04.) Stacie Sutton (A View to A Kill)

Deer in the headlights. 

All right, we've had dumb Bond Girls before, but not one that appears not to know what the word "geologist" actually means while trying to convince us that she is not just a geologist, but the STATE Geologist. 

Let's leave the fact that Stacie Sutton looks old enough to be James Bond's GRANDDAUGHTER (let alone daughter) in A View to A Kill (amping up the creepy factor).  What really kills Tanya Roberts' Sutton is that her line reading is just that...reading lines.  She never expresses any emotions.  Whether it's discussing Max Zorin's nefarious plans or her late grandfather (and no, it isn't 007's elementary school classmate) or discovering how Zorin will kill millions of people, she says it all the same way.  That is, she sounds more convincing when talking about soufflés than talking about mass murder.

Add to that Stacie Sutton is the weakest woman Bond's ever had the pleasure of sleeping weak: constantly screaming and almost incapable of defending herself.  Please, some Doctor Who Companions screamed less than Stacie Sutton...and they faced Daleks!

03.) Kissy Suzuki (You Only Live Twice)

You know what's so terrible about Kissy Suzuki?  The fact that she did NOTHING as a Bond Girl.

For most of You Only Live Twice the main action involved another Japanese girl, an agent named Aki.  In one of the worst decisions made in a Bond Film, Aki was killed off, and in return, we got Kissy.

Given how ugly YOLT is regarding racial images (the idea that Sean Connery, with a little make-up, could pass convincingly as a Japanese man would have been insulting then, and shockingly idiotic/insensitive now), the image of the docile, demure, thoroughly subservient Japanese woman ought to be more evidence in damning the film.

Worse, Kissy was not a major factor in anything involving YOLT.  She didn't fight, she didn't think. Most of her time was spent running around in her bikini, running off to warn MI6 and their Japanese counterparts and telling them where SPECTRE's volcano lair was.  That's about it. 

Kissy did nothing in the film, so how she ended up as the Primary Bond Girl when the more interesting and active Aki was bumped off (in a thoroughly ridiculous way) is another mark on one of the lesser Bond Films.

I'd like to say to Mie Hama, Kissy-Off.

She had been my Worst Bond Girl for a long time, but then we entered the 21st Century, and found some real doozies.

02.) Dr. Christmas Jones (The World is Not Enough)

Yes, this is what ALL nuclear scientists wear while working to disarm nuclear weapons, why do you ask?

It is clear almost from the get-go that Denise Richards was WILDLY miscast as Dr. Christmas Jones, nuclear scientist.  I say 'almost' because I'm a generous soul, and I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.  It wasn't until this "brilliant nuclear scientist" didn't have the sense to run, move, or react to a hail of bullets flying at her that I just gave up.

It isn't just the fact that Denise Richards is not an actress (actress in the 'convincingly portraying someone other than yourself' definition of the term).  It's the fact that she makes one hideous mistake after another.  A Good Bond Girl doesn't draw attention to her unique name; as far they were concerned, there is nothing peculiar about being called Pussy, or Goodhead, or Plenty O'Toole, or Onatopp.  Christmas Jones, on the other hand, made it obvious we were going to get puns.

And oh, what groan-inducing puns we got.  Christmas was never so tawdry or vulgar.

We also got in Christmas Jones someone who clearly had no idea what she was doing, let alone what was going on.  By even the obscure plot of The World is Not Enough, Jones looked perennially confused: about what was going on, about even who she was.  In the pile of debris known as The World is Not Enough, Dr. Jones could have used a Short Round to help her: help her figure out the story, help her act, help her think.

Now, the Worst Bond Girl of All Time Is...

01.) Camille Montes (Quantum of Solace)

We're never formally introduced to Camille Montes.  She just basically pops in and we (like the cast and crew of Quantum of Solace) basically have to figure it out for ourselves.  Something about revenge or something...

She doesn't look as if she even likes James Bond in QOS (given it's Daniel Craig, who probably scowled at her during filming, it's more than likely closer to the truth).  Therefore, it makes her kiss at the end of the film even more puzzling (and for something as chaotic as Quantum of Solace, that's saying something).  I should note that this is a Bond whom doesn't sleep with Bond, and one who kisses him for the first time at the END of the movie.  What kind of Bond Girl is that? 

Montes is the Worst Bond Girl simply because she gathers all the qualities of Bad Bond Girls (stupidity, lack of involvement with the action, a disinterested take on the proceedings) and throws in something uniquely her own: no sexual interest in 007. 

We've covered Bond Songs, Bond Henchmen, Bond Villains, and Bond Girls.  Now, we move on to the Ultimate List.  That's right: the Ten Best and Worst James Bond Films.

James Bond (Lists) Will Return...
...And This Man Is Like a Bad Bond Girl:
Pretty But Can't Act or Think.

Bond Girls On Film: The Ten Best Bond Girls


I don't care if people think I'm sexist: they are Bond GIRLS!


End of Discussion.

I'm not going for this Bond Woman thing.  I'm not going to pretend that the women in a James Bond film are just vehicles for erotic fascination (thought they can be). 

Honestly, what's wrong with having a bevy of beauties?  I don't think it diminishes them as people to appreciate them for their physical appearance. 

For me, the collection of females who romance or antagonize our 007 will always be...

Bond Girls.

Now, we get to the crux of the matter: the ranking of all the bathing beauties who have appeared in a James Bond film.  First, what exactly IS a Bond Girl?

That's a bit like making a list of Doctor Who companions: no one is quite sure what constitutes one.  We know some of the better Bond Girls (such as Dr. No's Honey Rider, Goldfinger's Pussy Galore, and Live and Let Die's Solitaire), but could someone like A View to A Kill's May Day or The World is Not Enough's Elektra King also be found in Bond Girl lists? 

I think a Bond Girl is someone who actually sleeps with James Bond, or at the very least is partnered wit him in some way (either as help or hindrance).  Also, this Retrospective has found there are Two types of Bond Girls, whom I've dubbed Primary and Secondary.  The main difference is that the Primary Bond Girl has a more dominant role in the Bond film (and almost always gets to the end of the film with Bond beside her), while the Secondary Bond Girl usually (but not always) ends up dead before the closing credits.

In this retrospective I have found only THREE instances when the Secondary Bond Girl actually gets to live to the end, and TWO cases when the Primary Bond Girl dies before the film's over.  More on that later. 

Now, before we count down our Top Ten List, I think I will take this opportunity to single out two women who, strictly speaking, don't qualify as Bond Girls, but who are still highly important women in the Bond mythos.  With that, two Honorable Mentions:

One of the BIGGEST mistakes the new James Bond producers have made is to leave out our Miss Moneypenny.  It just isn't a James Bond film without our ever-efficient personal assistant at MI6.  It is wrong to disassociate the series from one of the more stable and amusing characters.

Skyfall has rectified the bringing Miss (Eve) Moneypenny back (as the hideous River Song would say, "Spoilers"), and leaving her safely ensconced in M's office at the end of the film.  I question whether we need a tough Miss Moneypenny rather than the ever-bright, slightly flirtatious office agent.  Still, it's a step in the right direction (although I STILL can't bring myself to call this particular incarnation of Moneypenny an actual Bond Girl.  Sorry).

Miss Moneypenny is the antithesis of the Bond Girl: she is professional, intellectually mature, and highly efficient.  Her only flaw appears to be perpetually waiting to be turned into Mrs. Bond, but one imagines she enjoys the flirtations with 007 and that they probably do (or will) have some kind of relationship between missions.  She also happens to work on the right side. 

This isn't to say most Bond Girls are stupid or out-and-out criminals, but few hold reputable jobs.  Miss Moneypenny has an important role to play in the life of James Bond: truth be told, she's been the only woman who has stuck by him in all his comings and goings.  At the beginning (and one presumes, at the end) of every mission, there she'll be, forever flirting with Bond, but intelligent enough to know that perhaps that is ALL she will ever do. 

One of the things the newer Bonds HAVE gotten right is the selection of Dame Judi Dench as M.  I doubt even the great Dame Judi would qualify herself as a Bond Girl, but on the whole who would argue that she is perhaps the most powerful woman James has ever dealt with regularly (and the ONLY one, apart from Her Majesty) that he would ever defer to?

At first I thought the casting of Dench was a stunt, a way to put a woman over our hero (some call him sexist, others misogynistic, others just a jerk.  I call him none of those, but I digress).  However, she's proven herself to be vital in both Bond's life and Bond's work.  Not a Bond Girl per se, but a great element in the films (and Brother Gabe's "secret crush" inside joke).

Now, without further ado, the Official Rankings of the Ten Best Primary Bond Girls as selected by me, in descending order:

10.) Pam Bouvier (Licence to Kill)

The much-trashed, much-maligned Pam Bouvier of the similarly-trashed, similarly-maligned Licence to Kill finally gets her due.  I have enjoyed both Timothy Dalton Bond films, and while I think Licence to Kill is a more generic Bond film (more like a long episode of Miami Vice), I thought highly of Miss Bouvier.  You can tell that she's a strong woman: she blasts her way out of danger, and she is constantly frustrated in her efforts to be Bond's partner rather than his 'partner'. 

In fact, if you think of it, HER plan to infiltrate Franz Sanchez's retreat/cocaine hub was much more sensible than Bond's, and she did save Bond's life at least twice despite his constant efforts to get her out of the way (always for 'her own good') and even belittling her.  She was a far smarter character than she's ever been given credit for and her character in Licence to Kill I hope gets a reevaluation.

09.) Tiffany Case (Diamonds Are Forever)

Diamonds Are Forever is not a great Bond film.  It has many problems.  Therefore, why did I put in Tiffany Case as one of the Ten Best Bond Girls?  Quite simple: Tiffany is about the only Bond Girl who appears to be having a good time.  I don't know if Jill St. John actually DID have a good time while making the film, but judging from the final product the character is taking all of it as a lark.

Tiffany was sassy and sexy, flirtatious and charmingly goofy, delightfully devious and unrepentant about being a criminal.  She made no apologies for being a diamond smuggler and even after helping Bond she still had her eyes on getting the diamonds back.  Yes, near the end when she falls off the oil rig while ineptly firing a machine gun might have reduced Tiffany into a joke, but I think St. John got that.  That's one reason why Tiffany Case is a Great Bond Girl...she always appeared to be in on the joke.

08.) Honey Ryder (Dr. No)

Oh, boo-boo here.  Honey Ryder, the first Bond Girl, made such a remarkable debut in Dr. No (rising from the sea like Aphrodite) that it simply would be impossible to not have her in any Top Ten Bond Girl list.  She certainly wasn't afraid of danger, and could be dangerous when wet (sorry, couldn't resist).

Still, her relatively low ranking might be a surprise.  Why not at Number One?  Well, as I though on it I figured Honey didn't take a large role in Dr. No.  For a good amount of time, she was a bit of a 'damsel in distress'.  While Bond was taking on Doctor No, she was somewhere trapped in the bad Doctor's lair.  If one thinks about it, she all but disappeared for a while in the film.  However, trust me, Honey...we're still looking.

07.) Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)

This is a case of a lost opportunity.  Wai Lin was sadly short-shifted in Tomorrow Never Dies.  If more thought had been given to make her an equal to Bond (in terms of screen time) the film would have benefited tremendously from Michelle Yeoh's presence.  For Heaven's sake, she's MICHELLE could they screw THAT up?

Even though the film failed her, we can see that Wai Lin is Bond's equal: she's bright, able to take care of herself (and take down a host of thugs dumb enough to take her on) and highly resourceful.  Anyone else who tried to walk on walls might look foolish, but Wai Lin made it look fascinating.

06.) Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)

James Bond simply couldn't have defeated Janus without her.

Natalya was not just any Bond Girl; she had both smarts and soul.  Natalya had the mind to try to bring down those who killed her co-workers and friends before getting involved with Bond, but she was also not merely waiting around for Bond to do his thing.  When trapped aboard the soon-to-explode train, she basically ordered him to 'get us out of here'.

Natalya also saw how destructive Bond's life was.  Even as she was being romanced by 007, she snapped her disapproval of how both James and Janus behaved, solving things with violence.  She figured this was wrong because it would in the end never bring about true peace.  She is strong, smart, but also vulnerable: her genuine sadness at seeing everyone at her station killed and the terror of coming close to death herself make Natalya sympathetic.  It's not so much that she isn't afraid, but that she admits it but continues.

05.) Major Anya Amasova Agent XXX (The Spy Who Loved Me)

It might be too easy to describe Agent XXX as Bond's Soviet counterpart, but I think that XXX is a brilliant Bond Girl because, unlike others, she has a powerful motivation to both help and hurt 007.

WE know from early on that Bond killed Major Amasova's lover, but she doesn't until the middle of the film.  Before that she worked with Bond purely because they had the same objective.  After she discovers this, she now has a conflict: she obviously is falling for her counterpart, but she also swore revenge against the one who hurt her so.  So many things going on with her: devotion to her duty to country, her desire to avenge her lover, her own feelings for Bond.  Those conflicts give Amasova a chance for a greater and stronger role in a Bond film, a motivation and growth to her character one doesn't see often in a Bond Girl.

It also helps to look like Barbara Bach.  The Cold War never looked this hot.

04.) Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)

Few Bond Girls have been as beautiful, as vulnerable, as devious, and as tragic as Vesper Lynd.  She started out as someone efficient and not interested in James Bond, but over the course of Casino Royale Vesper grew to someone who was highly frightened, a heart beneath her stiff exterior.

We should know that Bond will not ride off into the sunset with the girl in his arms.  The divided loyalties of Vesper make her actions understandable perhaps, but her final scene, knowing what we know and seeing what she does, is truly heartbreaking. Vesper Lynd is neither a good girl gone bad or a bad girl gone good, she is a good woman who made difficult choices that regardless of her decisions cost her more than she could pay.

03.) Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)

Katniss Everdeen, eat your heart out.

Melina Havelock is also someone driven by motive, in her case the killing of her parents.  She will not let anything, even 007, get in her way.  Melina is someone who is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but who also could use guidance in knowing the difference between revenge and justice.

In many ways, For Your Eyes Only is about Melina's journey: the loss of her parents and her desire to punish those responsible getting just as equal treatment as Bond's mission which is connected, but not essential to the Havelock's story.  Melina is relentless, but she is also vulnerable.

Like I said, Katniss Everdeen, eat your heart out.

02.) Pussy Galore (Goldfinger)

No Best Bond Girl List would be complete without Pussy.

Bond Girls appear to thrive on unique names that are risque, even provocative, and you can't get more provocative than Pussy Galore.

Still, what makes her a Great Bond Girl?  Names can only get you so far (we'll get to that a little later).  It's the fact that she is in no way, shape, or form a 'damsel in distress'.  She certainly isn't going to wait on a man to rescue fact, men might need to be rescued from her.  Pussy is tough, strong, and able to handle any situation she faces. 

Pussy is professional and loyal to her criminal undertaking, determined to beat those who confront her.  She doesn't need to be taken care of, knows her job, and can stand up to any man.

Granted, while not an open lesbian as she was in the novel, the suggestion that she has no interest in 007 or any other man is still there.  Pussy if anything is the perfect male fantasy: the lesbian who is "converted" by the right man.

And yes, she has the best Bond Girl name. 

And now, the Greatest Bond Girl of All Time...

01.) Countess Teresa "Tracy" DiVincenzo Bond
(On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

I've long argued that when you have a legitimate actress as a Bond Girl, you get a better performance (almost always).  You need proof?  Just look at Dame Diana Rigg as Tracy. 

The acting in On Her Majesty's Secret Service is among the best in a Bond film, but what elevates Tracy is that we see something we aren't treated to often in a Bond Film: James Bond genuinely falling in love with someone, and vice-versa.  Tracy has the strength of good Bond Girls (she is able to handle Blofeld and fight against both him and his minions), she has the wit of good Bond Girls (who else can both infuriate and placate their father easily or go toe-to-toe with 007) and she has the vulnerability of good Bond Girls (her genuinely love for Bond is rewarded).

Tracy also has the most tragic fate in a Bond Girl (apart from Vesper), which makes it all the more poignant that after getting to know her, we'll never see her again. 

Well, as we know, we've all had at least ONE bad relationship, and 007 is no exception.  With that, let's shift over to our Ten Worst Primary Bond Girls.

James Bond (Lists) Will Return...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ya Vastra. Thoughts On a Madam Vastra/Jenny Spinoff

It's strange the things one remembers.  I remember an ad for a Law & Order: SVU episode where the voice said, "Tracy Pollan in a rare television appearance".  I was so taken aback that this particular guest star was being made the selling point of this story that I shocked even myself when I snapped back at the television, "In a rare ANYTHING appearance!"  I said this because I figured that, unlike most Americans, I knew who Tracy Pollan was.

She is the wife of Michael J. Fox.

I'm sure if I met them, I'd be enchanted, but forgive me Miss Pollan: you are not a major enough name to warrant any excitement over your "rare television appearance" on Law & Order or any other show.  If it had been Meryl Streep or Jack Nicholson, then it would have made sense.  But Tracy Pollan?  Nothing against her, but seriously, when was the last time the name "Tracy Pollan" had you running to the cinema or the television?

If it were not for this post, would you have even heard of Tracy Pollan?

There is a reason I dragged poor Mrs. Fox into this.  In the same way I was puzzled by the promotion of a two-part Law & Order: SVU story as a triumphant return for Miss Pollan (there is a certain Norma Desmond-esque quality to that, isn't there?),  I am likewise puzzled by the popularity of two guest characters on the long-running British sci-fi show River Song (Formerly Known as Doctor Who): Madame Vastra and Jenny.

For those not in the know, Madame Vastra and Jenny made their debut in River's Secret Part I: A Good Man Goes to War.   Madame Vastra is a Silurian, a reptilian-like race that preceded humans on our planet but were driven underground.  Jenny is a Victorian-era maidservant.  In AGMGTW, it is understood, though never overtly stated, that Madame Vastra and Jenny are lovers.

At least that's my memory of it...I so hate River-centric stories I really can't recall. 

Now, as I ponder the popularity of Madame Vastra et Jenny, I went over my own review of River's Secret Parts 1 & 2: A Good Man Goes to War/Let's Kill Hitler.  

In regards to the characters themselves in that River Song episode, Madame Vastra and Jenny made such little impact that I didn't even mention them in my review.  In fact, even now their characters to me are so forgettable that I still can't get the Silurian's name right.  Try as I might, I keep calling her "Madame Vestra" rather than "Vastra".  I just can't remember (or care to remember) this bit character's name.  In fact, if one watches the trailer for AGMGTW, Madame Vastra and Jenny aren't even in it.  Strange how that is, isn't it.

Satan and Her Minions...

What truly amazes me about Madame Vastra and Jenny is how despite one appearance in one episode of a two-part story where their total on-screen time was at the most under fifteen minutes, various NuWho fans are so enthralled with them and think they are these ICONIC characters that they demand a spin-off television series around them. 

I know I'm a bit-old fashioned in my way of thinking, but somehow, watching the adventures of a homosexual interspecies couple does not scream "family entertainment".

I digress to say their sexual orientation as presented is frankly by now a bore, even predictable, rather than daring.  Robertson Davies was right: "The love that dare not speak its name is now the love that won't shut up."  Homosexuality on television (including television shows based around gay characters) simply isn't that shocking and innovative.

What would be shocking, even avant-garde would be to have a happily married heterosexual couple.  Making them both intelligent and religious (be it Christian, Jewish, or Muslim...take your pick) would be downright revolutionary.  Therefore, the fact that Madame Vastra and Jenny are lesbian lovers frankly is not shocking (though questionable whether a program geared towards children should have any discussion of sex, straight or gay). 

What is, to me at least, repulsive is that Madame Vestra..sorry, Vastra (STILL can't get the name right) and Jenny's 'romance' is virtually bestiality on television.  No matter how you cut it, it's a non-human involved romantically (and sexually) with a human.

I don't want to see a lizard making love to a human, period, and don't comprehend why anyone else would want to, let alone declare it a 'great romance', one worth a television series. 

I simply don't understand why characters that were in one episode with a small amount of screen time could possibly merit a spin-off. 

I wonder about those who would want to watch a weekly series about a female reptile in love with a female human who fight crimes in Victorian Britain.

Let's consider this for a moment.  A weekly series involving two characters that were on one episode of a two-part story.  I can't imagine anyone celebrating a show with a scene of a lizard having gay sex with a human, but then again I am someone who still reads for pleasure and doesn't find Shakespeare confusing.

Bet none of THEM have seen anything pre-Rose...
From what I see and hear, NuWho fans have a Spin-Off Fetish.  It seems that EVERY character Doctor Who 2.0 has, even a minimal guest character, has passionate fans who cry out for more stories separate from the Doctor Who mythos.  They got their wish with Torchwood, a spin-off for Captain Jack Harkness (or as I lovingly call him, The Intergalactic Nymphomaniac) first introduced in The Empty Child Parts 1 & 2 (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances).  A similar situation emerged with The Sarah Jane Adventures, where Sarah Jane Smith got her own show after her return to Doctor Who in School Reunion proved a hit.

A side note: Sarah Jane HAD previously been the source for a potential spin-off, K-9 & Company.  Only one episode was ever produced: A Girl's Best Friend, and nothing more came from it.  Curiously, that episode wasn't all bad and had potential, but at least it was built around two well-established characters.

Rose Tyler, the NuWho's first Companion, had a spin-off/annual special in the works: Rose Tyler: Earth Defence.  That never came to fruition, but I've heard others call for spin-offs for roly-poly Craig Owens (of The Lodger and its sequel, Closing Time) as well as spin-offs for the central Doctor Who character of River Song.

(I've long argued that River Song is now the de facto star of Doctor Who, but that's for another time).

GIven the NuWho's mania for spin-offs, I'm genuinely surprised the NuWho fans haven't demanded a spin-off for Winston Churchill or Vincent van Gogh.  We Need to Know Whatever Happened to Them!    

The only time I can recall when characters from a Doctor Who story were seriously considered for a spin-off were the characters of Jago and Litefoot from the Fourth Doctor story The Talons of Weng-Chiang.  They have gone on to helm a successful audio series of adventures, but the difference between Jago & Litefoot versus Madame Vastra and Jenny are tremendous. 

The Talons of Weng-Chiang was six episodes long, which meant that these characters appeared on television for a month and a half. Think on that: a month and a half versus less than thirty minutes.

In that time, the public had a chance to see the guest characters grow and become more important as the story developed.  The length of Talons allowed them a chance to build in the public mind, to be a continuing presence on the screens.  However much the rabid NuWho fans may claim to the contrary, that simply isn't the case with Madame Vastra and Jenny.

Jago and Litefoot were also an integral part of Talons of Weng-Chiang.  They weren't two characters that just popped in briefly.  They were almost Companions to the Doctor.  Can the same be said of Madame Vastra and her cross-dressing lesbian lover Jenny?      

For the life of me I cannot understand why two secondary characters would inspire such passionate devotion (fan-fiction, artwork, hopes for more stories involving them, an entire mythology built around two characters that weren't even integral to the main plot they were featured in).  I could live with the idea of audio stories about Madame Vastra & Jenny (albeit with high reservations).  However, what is so good about these two characters, or Captain Jack, or River Song, that would make one want to watch them week after week?  I can't speak for Torchwood given I've never seen it, but I think Torchwood is its own thing and bares now only a minuscule connection to Doctor Who

Fanboys (and girls), allow me some words to the wise: not every guest star deserves a spin-off.  Yes, good shows can be made from characters previously seen on other shows.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show had three: Phyllis, Lou Grant, and Rhoda All In the Family had Maude (which in turn had Good Times) and The JeffersonsCheers brought about FrasierAngel sprung from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

However, there is a marked difference.  All the spin-offs mentioned were based on recurring characters, not guest characters.  Second, not every show, even great ones, deserve a spin-off.

Remember The Golden Girls' spin-off Golden Palace, or AfterM*A*S*H, or the Three's Company's The Ropers, or 227's Sandra Clark spin-off Jackée?  In the same vein, why do Madame Vastra and Jenny, or roly-poly Craig Owens, or River Song, deserve a weekly program about them? What makes them THAT good?  Why do you get more excited over guest characters than the central character? 

If there is a Madame Vastra & Jenny Show (The Lizard & The Lady, perhaps?), might I suggest a Spin-Off based on a character they've worked with: a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who goes by "The Doctor"?  Might make for a good series...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Clash And Fall

Somehow, Tickle-Me-Elmo sounds more perverse...

However one cuts it, this simply can't be a Happy Thanksgiving for Kevin Clash. 

I watched Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey and was charmed by Clash's journey from Baltimore poverty to success as a Muppeteer, creating the voice for Elmo, one of the most iconic Sesame Street characters.  In Being Elmo, we followed Clash from starting out with creating his own puppets to finding a mentor in Kermit Love, a master puppeteer who worked alongside Jim Henson.  Eventually, Clash's talent and hard work brought him this puppet no one knew what to do with.  Clash eventually found the perfect voice for Elmo: that of a sweet, caring child discovering the world.

The issue of children is now what has brought Clash shame not praise.  After 28 years at Sesame Street and a lifetime of awards and creativity, a sorry and sordid sex scandal has soiled Kevin Clash's reputation and dragged the furry red monster into a crisis.  Clash resigned from the television show when a second man accused the puppeteer of having sexual relations with him when the accuser was underage.

Clash has denied that he was involved in any sexual relationship with underage boys, but has come out of the closet and admitted to being gay after acknowledging that there was a relationship with the first accuser, though Clash insisted it was when both were adults.  The first accuser shortly afterwards recanted his original story and confirmed that their affair was between consenting adults.  Now, with Accuser Number 2 emerging and suggestions there were more, it was one storm too much for Clash to have survived.

This whole situation is sad and tawdry in so many ways.  Either Clash is innocent or he's guilty, one or the other. 

Let's figure that he's innocent.  If he is, then Clash is being dragged through the mud for a chance at quick cash.  Accusations of child abuse, especially sexual, are particularly heinous even in this particularly permissive society of ours. Clash's reputation, all the good work he's done, is being trampled underfoot due to lies, his life made into a sordid tabloid story where a figure beloved by children is being tainted by association.  It becomes nothing more than a shakedown of someone in the public eye with a fortune to be made by accusers and attorneys.

If he's innocent.

If he's guilty, then it becomes far more horrifying. 

Clash's sexual orientation is not the issue: Kermit Love himself was gay and no one thought anything of it.  It is in the objects of his alleged affections that one must take pause at.  The accusers state they were 15 and 16 when Clash approached them for sexual contact (though not intercourse, a phrasing that leaves me puzzled).  Clash was an adult, capable of telling right from wrong; regardless of whatever physical desires lurked within him if he did not appreciate that pursuing underage boys or girls was wrong (the gender ultimately is irrelevant for it would not make either right) then Clash needed at the very least psychological treatment.

Unfortunately, the fact that is is a gay man being accused of being a virtual sexual predator (one can only imagine the parodies of Elmo being questioned by Chris Hansen) brings up all the old stereotypes of how gay men are sexually deviant and are 'after our children'.  The wicked ghost of Anita Bryant has been summoned thanks to Clash's work with children mixing with his alleged desires for sex with underage boys. 

As a digression, I wonder that given how much time Clash must have spent with Love, whether he ever approached his mentor about how he too preferred sex with men over women.  It seems surprising to me that Clash never once thought to speak with Love about his own homosexual or bisexual issues.  Clash must have observed Love with his long-term partner, so how in a more open society Clash continued to keep silent when a divorce and acknowledgment of his sexuality would not have created anywhere near the maelstrom this has is beyond me.

His connection with children, especially toddlers, is what makes this story far more hideous.  The idea that a man who worked with children could himself have pursued teens for his own sexual gratification is frankly too dark to contemplate.

If he's guilty.

I can only express dismay at this whole sorry episode, and now wonder whether it is a good idea for one man to be so identified with a character.  Carroll Spinney has been Big Bird for decades, but he's never had the fame that Clash and Elmo have.  It now appears to have been a terrible mistake to have so made Clash and Elmo so mutually identifiable one with the other in the public mind.  Clash's fall from grace has only served to tarnish them both.

Yet I digress.

As is the case, Kevin Clash is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, not public opinion.  It is a capital mistake to reach conclusions without the data.  The truth will eventually be revealed, one way or another.  At the moment, Kevin Clash's reputation is being torn in tatters, he is unemployed (perhaps unemployable given the nature of the accusations), and now his biography will be marked with shocking charges.  I can't say whether Kevin Clash is innocent or guilty. 

I can only say that seeing this is so sad.