Sunday, August 31, 2014

Genius At Work



CHARLIE: THE LIFE AND ART OF CHARLES CHAPLIN

I think it's been established that Charles Chaplin was a true comedic genius.  His Little Tramp character is beyond iconic.  He is one of the few silent film stars who has transcended cinema and remains part of popular culture.  Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, delves into his creative and personal life.  A bit dry at times, it is still an interesting look at his creative process and one any film or Chaplin buff would enjoy.

Richard Schickel, film historian and reviewer, wrote and directed the documentary, narrated by Sydney Pollack.  Schickel's love for the subject is there in the film, as it covers with both film clips and interviews ranging from film historians to directors like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese along with Robert Downey, Jr., (who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in Chaplin).  The film Limelight seems to be the guide for our journey, as it seems to be the whole of Chaplin's career: his early days on the London stage, his fear of audiences rejecting him for any number of reasons (being too passé, too sentimental, old-fashioned), his melancholy beneath the mirth.

We see his triumphs and his tragedies, along with the problems that both surrounded him and which he caused himself.  His predilection for younger women was a source of great controversy (his last wife, Oona O'Neil, daughter of the playwright Eugene O'Neil, was 18 to Chaplin's 53 when they married, causing an international scandal and a break between father and daughter).  Still, Oona was the last of what the film calls his 'three great loves', the first being a frequent co-star, Edna Purviance, the second being his third wife, Paulette Goddard. 

We do get some interesting insights from the interviewees.  Allen, for example, did not find the famous 'globe dance' in The Great Dictator amusing, and while if memory serves correct he never overtly states it the fact that as a Jew this spoof of Hitler might be too clownish for the horrors Hitler committed. We also get some insight as to how some of the great films, such as The Gold Rush, were made, and how a film praised by critics that he directed but did not star in, A Woman of Paris, failed.  We also get some coverage into another film, Monsieur Verdeux, which was a dark, dark comedy about a man who murders his wives and equates that with the wholesale slaughter of people through war. 



However, as informative as Charlie is, I found it a bit dry at times.  At one point I struggled to stay awake.  I think it has to do with the fact that Schickel is a bit too much of a fan.  Rather than take a more impartial or critical eye at Chaplin, Schickel is satisfied to let others talk about how great Chaplin was.  He certainly was that, for I am one of his fans (though personally, I love Lloyd and am more a Keaton person myself).  However, Schickel kind of skims over the failures of A King in New York and A Countess From Hong Kong, failures due both to his worldview and filmmaking style (which by the time they were made were too far rooted to the past).  The documentary is respectful of A Woman of Paris, but waxes rhapsodic about Chaplin's cameo in the film.

That should give on an idea of how Charlie sees Chaplin. 

Charlie also doesn't give enough time to how the political leanings of Chaplin, which were not in step with the times, affected his career both personally and creatively.  Finally, it is only again, when we go back to Limelight, that we even touch on any kind of rivalry between Chaplin and one of his silent film counterparts, his Limelight co-star Buster Keaton.   

Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, will be enjoyed by those who love Chaplin and is a great primer for this genius.  A bit dry and a bit tedious at times, it still is worth looking into to get an idea about what makes Charles Chaplin one of the greats.   

DECISION: B-

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cantinflas' Song and Dance



EL BOLERO DE RAQUEL

Mario Moreno, better known by his stage name of Cantinflas (pronounced cahn-TEEN-flahs) is a comedic legend.  He is more than 'the Chaplin of Latin America'.  In a great example of genius influencing genius, Cantinflas took some Chaplin characteristics (the raggedy clothes, the expressive face) but unlike Chaplin, Cantiflas' greatest strength was his ability with words.  He could turn a simple sentence into something so complex and convoluted that a term was coined for someone who befuddled with linguistic prowess: to "Cantinflear" means to so confuse someone with verbiage that it becomes too confusing.

In return, Charles Chaplin commented that Cantinflas was the greatest comic alive. 

Genius Saluting Genius.

I had grown up watching Cantinflas movies, but this was the first time I had seen one of his most legendary films, El Bolero de Raquel.  An obvious pun on Ravel's Bolero, Cantinflas turned the iconic piece and made something both universal and specific to its setting.  Granted, those who speak or understand Spanish will appreciate it better than those who don't , but with or without subtitles El Bolero de Raquel is a delight.  In this, Cantiflas' first color film and the first after his brief foray into the American market with mixed results (the Oscar-winning Around the World in 80 Days followed by the disastrous Pepe), El Bolero de Raquel is a welcome return to form for a true comedic genius.

Cantinflas plays a 'bolero' (basically, a shoeshine boy), who scrapes a living by both shining shoes and hoodwinking clueless American tourists with his own bizarre history lessons on Chapultepec Palace.  He returns to his neighborhood one night to discover that his best friend has died by falling off the construction site he was on.  The widow, Leonor (Flor Silvestre) decides that she will go to her parent's home and plead for help, for her parents objected to her marriage.  As such, she leaves her son Chavita (Francisco Fernandez) in his care while she's away.

Cantinflas wants to do right by his godson, so he tries to get an education, where he falls for Chavita's schoolteacher, the beautiful Raquel (Manola Saavedra).  That doesn't go very well (when Cantinflas is asked to explain what shapes water takes, he says two: Major and Minor, expanding that Major Water is things like oceans, Minor Water being what you find in fountains and sinks).  An effort to be in construction also flops spectacularly, as does the highlight of the film.



He gets a job shining shoes for a cabaret show, and when the headliner goes on stage to perform a dance to Ravel's Bolero, he hears it as her calling for the 'bolero' to join HER on stage.  Finding no prospects in Mexico City, they go to Acapulco, where he tries to make money off the tourists, but again things go wrong.  He stumbles (quite literally) into a lifeguard job, but he proves typically inept (the large woman floundering in the ocean ends up rescuing him!).  They go back to Mexico City, but with enough money for Cantinflas to get Chavita what he's always wanted: a large ball.  When they arrive at the neighborhood, to their surprise Leonor has returned, having not only made peace with her parents but with a fiancée who is glad to take Chavita with them, and who comes bearing his own ball.

Cantinflas, sad to see Chavita go but resigned to it, begins to wander with his ball, and at a park kicks it away, only to find Raquel has picked it up.  She had fallen in love with Cantinflas, and we end with them together.

Cantinflas has a great ability to be hilarious and heart-tugging at the same time.  His verbal skills are in top form throughout El Bolero de Raquel.  Showing up intoxicated at the funeral with a mutual buddy (where no one appears to think it odd and goes along with it), as Cantinflas gives a rambling eulogy, he ends up falling into the pit.  Cantinflas insists he was pushed.  "Well, it's not like he dragged me in," he says in his defense.   In Acapulco, Chavita wants to snack on the shrimp they're selling.  Cantinflas says no.  "What about the seafood you have?" Chavita asks.  "That's for sale.  Do you want to get poisoned?" he replies.


The sight gags are also hilarious.  The naughty but still clean pleasure he gets in putting sunscreen on American tourists is extremely funny.  At one point, having poured some on a slightly elderly woman, he then finds that she calls her granddaughter.  He insists on being thorough and tells them he'll be back tomorrow.  What makes his efforts at seduction more amusing is that somehow we know he won't ever get far (his voice rises like that of a teen discovering girls for the first time).  There is a certain innocence to Cantinflas' persona, but one mixed with shrewdness.  While at the zoo, Cantinflas manages to get snacks for himself and Chavita by pretending to help a fat boy in a sailor suit 'feed the monkeys' by tossing them peanuts and taking oranges and bananas in the guise of tossing those.  The dance is also hilarious, showing off a physical dexterity to rival Chaplin.

It also brings up the cliché of every Mexican film having to have a cabaret scene. 

Going back to Chaplin, El Bolero de Raquel seems to have a bit of The Kid in it, with Cantinflas having to play a father-figure to the youngster.  Unlike Chaplin's version however, Cantinflas is not a reluctant father.  Furthermore, the idea of the 'padrino' or godfather is stronger in Latin America, where a man who is not the biological father assume fatherly responsibilities he promised to at the child's baptism is taken more seriously.

However, that is as serious as El Bolero de Raquel is, because both physically and verbally Cantinflas is a master.  From his bizarre chemistry and history lessons to his ability to outwit the police, we get the comedic side.  When he and Chavita offer prayers at bedtime, we get the sentimental side (though still with great humor and heart). 

Ravel's Bolero is built around its deliberate repetitiveness, which enhances its brilliance.  El Bolero de Raquel is built around Cantinflas' verbal and physical abilities along with a tender element of fathers and sons, which enhances its brilliance.

DECISION: A-

Friday, August 29, 2014

When Elizabethan Hearts Are Aflame


FIRE OVER ENGLAND

Fire Over England brought together two of the greatest screen and theater couples of all time: Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.  The fact that they were married to other people did not stop them from beginning a torrid affair that mirrors the couple in the film.  Fire Over England also mirrors the oncoming storm of World War II, though perhaps this was unintentional.  I say "perhaps" because in 1937 it is hard not to think that Britain and Germany would once again take up arms against each other; a film like Fire Over England would serve as a reminder of another time when the sceptered isle was in danger of invasion and triumphed.

Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) is facing enemies foreign and domestic.  She is facing off against her former brother-in-law, King Philip II of Spain (Raymond Massey), determined to win England back to the True Faith and remove the heretic bastard Queen.  Her Majesty has only her loyal treasurer Lord Burleigh (Morton Selton) and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Leslie Banks), for whom she has always carried a torch.  Beyond that there is no one she can fully trust.

However, a new figure has entered her Court.  It is Michael Ingolby (Olivier), fresh off a daring escape from the Spanish who comes with news of a Grand Armada that is being formed against the Virgin Queen.  Elizabeth knows all about this, but she recognizes a young man with ambition, courage, and above all loyalty to the Crown.  There is one potential hitch: Michael is passionately in love with Cynthia (Leigh), Lord Burley's granddaughter and a lady-in-waiting to Gloriana.  Her Majesty cannot help but notice that Cynthia is young and beautiful, while she...

Still, despite Leicester's bungling of keeping Philip's agent Hillary Vane (James Mason, in one of his earliest roles) alive, there is still opportunity.  No one has seen Vane in Spain (there's a poem in there) and Michael is about the right age and height to match reports.  He also speaks fluent Spanish.  Despite Cynthia's misgivings and open objections, Michael will be bound to the Crown and not the heart.  Therefore, it's off to the Escurial, Philip's palace, to infiltrate the plot.  Michael, however, has issues of his own.



Michael is undone by the Lady Elena (Tamara Desni).  He had met the Lady Elena before, when he was hiding out in Spain before escaping back to Britain.  She still harbors feelings for him, but also harbors hatred for the English, whom she blames for her father's death.  While she doesn't give him away, their closeness raises the suspicions of her husband, Don Pedro (Robert Newton), and his failure to come up with the final name of the conspirator convinces Philip he's not the real Vale.  Nevertheless, to save Lady Elena's honor, Don Pedro 'allows' Michael's escape, and thus he races back to Britain to warn the Queen of who are the vipers at her Court.  She goes to lead the troops herself, unmasks the traitors (who now renounce their former allegiance and return to Liz's bosom, so to speak) and Michael along with the ex-traitors goes to smash the Armada. 

With victory assured, Cynthia and Michael are to be married at the same time Gloriana goes to give thanks for her kingdom's deliverance (and her own).  However, she recognizes that no Crown will ever win a young man's heart like that of a pretty face, and while she privately mourns the passing of her own youth, she continues to lead her people into the Elizabethan Age.

It is rather difficult if not impossible to not recognize that Fire Over England was in some way a form of rallying cry to the growing Nazi threat the British were facing.  Certain scenes, certain moments play as if the characters were addressing the Germans rather than the Spanish.  However, even if this were not the case, Fire Over England has several saving graces.

The first are the performances by Robson and Leigh.  As often as Queen Elizabeth I has been portrayed by a variety of great actresses (Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Bette Davis), I think Robson is perhaps the best (with Blanchett coming in an extremely close second).  Robson shows Elizabeth to be the imperious queen she needed to be, but she also shows a softer, tender side.  In one shocking moment, she slaps Cynthia for giving a smart reply to her line of questioning (when complaining that Cynthia is giving her 'crooked answers', Cynthia retorts, "Crooked answers to cross questions").  However, later on the Virgin Queen softly tells Michael that it is right that he ask Cynthia whether to endanger his life to serve as her spy.  Robson even stops to visit an ill Burley, and shocks her ancient courtier by serving him hot soup in a gentle manner. 

Robson does an incredible job of being both imperious and highly vulnerable, of being both woman and Queen.


Leigh also does a great job of playing the slightly fluttery but endearing Cynthia, who is cheeky and scatterbrained but also bold and daring.  She is openly defiant to her Queen when she insists that it is not right that Michael risk his life again after barely having escaped the first time.  In turns silly and serious, Leigh manages to out-act Laurence Olivier, who looks like he's having great difficulty toning down the more theatrical style of acting for a subtler film performance.

Olivier is highly theatrical in Fire Over England, as if he thinks he is on a London stage and has to basically shout to the gallery. More embarrassing, he never loses an opportunity to show off how vigorous he can be in even the slightest action scene, jumping and leaping about with abandon.  He manages to throw in a little song too, about the courting of an English man and a Spanish lady.  Pity that Spanish Eyes hadn't been written yet, otherwise he would have belted that one out too.

Out of all the performances, Olivier's wild hysterics made the difference between him and all his co-stars (even those with smaller roles like Desni or Newton or Massey, who appeared to take this seriously) all the more pronounced.

However, to their credit Olivier and Leigh look absolutely perfect together, these two people who would scandalize the theatrical world by their torrid affair while still very much married.  Fire Over England captures these two lovers in visually beautiful terms (aided by legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe) and Elizabeth's rousing speech to her troops is among the best moments in the film.

There is also a great wit in Fire Over England.  When reprimanding his wife for keeping Michael's identity secret from him until she confesses, Don Pedro remarks, "The whole trouble comes from treating your enemies like human beings.  Don't you see my dear, that if you do that they cease to be enemies?"  While meaning it as a rebuke, Clemence Dane and Sergei Nolbandov's adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's novel shows the foolishness of Don Pedro's thinking.

Fire Over England drags a bit and Olivier's performance is one of the hammiest of his early career.  However, thanks to Howe's beautiful imagery and both Vivien Leigh and Flora Robson's performances, it is a great treat for those who love costume films, romances, historic pictures and anyone who gets a kick out of reliving the past.

Gloriana Forever!  

Let's see the other Elizabeth
top this!
 



DECISION: B+

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On Besties and Boozing



FRANKLIN & BASH: BRO-BONO

I enjoyed Bro-Bono thanks to the human element within the story, though perhaps I am not as enchanted with it as I watched it the first time.  It is a good insight into primarily Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer), whom we learn can harbor a grudge and first meets Ellen Swatello (Rhea Seehorn), who will come back to haunt him as his occasional lover with whom he can have 'hate-sex' with.

The fact that Swatello is remarkably bitter and mannish should not suggest that Jared Franklin is in any way sexually attracted to beings who have masculine elements.

We have the primary case, that of Rick Paxton (Harry Hamlin) and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Maya (Bre Blair, not to be confused with Brer Rabbit).  Paxton, a Richard Branson-type, has built a reputation as the ultimate ladies' man, so much so that in the prenuptial agreement there was an adultery clause, stating that a fortune would be forfeit if either had an affair.  As the investigation goes on, could they actually have been sharing the same mistress?  Allison Cruze (Andrea de Oliveria) denies sleeping with either of them.  However, thanks to Jared's instincts, not only does the truth come out, but a reconciliation occurs between Rick and Maya.

The other case involves Jared and Peter's old friend Danny Dubois (Michael Weaver), better known by his nickname of Double D.  Jared still resents Double D because back in high school, his Big Man on Campus (no, not a Breckin Meyer short joke), showered with Jared's girlfriend (begging the question, Jared Franklin had a girlfriend?!).  Double D has fallen on hard times, which as far as his frenemy is concerned, is schadenfreude.  Double D is now forced to sleep on his grandma's couch at her retirement home, making money doing odd jobs for the residents, including driving them around.  To Double D's surprise, he actually enjoys his work there, but he needs Franklin and Bash's help due to an assault charge where he's accused of taking a swipe at a cop.  The boys are able to successfully argue that in the confusion who know if it was intentional or self-defense, but now he gets a drunk driving charge thrown at him.  This will mean that if convicted, out goes his license...and his spending money.

Some of the residents, including Nanette (Jenny O'Hara), who goes beyond cougar to Pindar (Kumail Nanjiani) into straight-up saber-tooth tiger, try to help Double D, but little things like Nanette's former past as a hooker get in the way (devastating Pindar, who is listening in on Franklin's phone while in court to shout out, "My God, My Nanette's a WHORE!).  Eventually, the case is resolved thanks to a patented F&B skit: Jared gets drunk in court to show that his blood alcohol level was fine at first, then over the limit some time later, proving that when Double D set out on his rescue mission, his two beers were under the limit, but by the time he got to the strip club, he was legally drunk.


Evidence that Jared Franklin is
indeed str8...
Granted, the two main legal defenses Bro-Bono came up with (the 'delayed drunk defense for Double D, the dumb dick defense for Rick Paxton) are a bit nutty, but then again, this IS Franklin & Bash (not the place to go to for sound legal advise).  Still, at least Bro-Bono has enough confidence in itself to know that in the end, a lot of this is silly.

Bro-Bono also works well because it throws great twists, some that make our heroes look downright foolish.  Take for example when the attempt to needle and humiliate Karp by throwing him a surprise "50th" birthday party (even though if we go by Reed Diamond's real age, he was only 44).  Karp, as unflappable as ever, not only just says he's nowhere near 50 but also borrows Bash's guitar and shows them that his skills at shredding are much better than Bash's (or almost anyone's really).  This little bit shows that Damien Karp is actually a human being, one with outside passions and skills, not the monotone stuck-up snob Jared and Peter insist to themselves he is.  Karp is far more formidable than anyone on the show (including the writers) have ever given him credit for.

We also get some strong work by O'Hara as the saber-tooth tiger who sparks in Pindar an erotic zest (it's for laughs, so we forgive what can come off as downright creepy...sexual desires for Grandma's friends), and I thought well of both Seehorn as the strict, straight-laced Swatello and Weaver as Double D, someone who really needs to grow up but who, unlike the juvenile Franklin and the struggling Bash, actually manages to show some maturity as the story goes on.

Bro-Bono was done in by a few details I didn't care for, such as Jared and Peter discussing a scenario where either 'dates' Karp (they're so not-gay).  Another aspect that was not that good was having poor Dana Davis' Carmen endure a second round of vomiting (this time thanks to Jared's boozing rather than Pindar's paranoia).  Come to think of it, didn't Jared cheat when he told Peter after the case that he had secretly drunk more alcohol between the first and second sobriety tests?  Bro-Bono also didn't answer how Swatello's team discovered Nanette was an ex-hooker with a long rap sheet.  Then we have the false trail of a shared mistress, which was I think a way to titillate the audience who goes into lesbo action, but that's just me.

However, Bro-Bono was a good way to introduce some backstory to Jared and Peter, a good way to show Damien Karp has more sides than even he lets on, and has two interesting cases that, while resolved a bit bizarrely, at least made some sense and provided good laughs. 



7/10

Next Episode: You Can't Take It With You

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Adding the 'Romance' in 'Bromance'

A Kiss Is Still a Kiss...


FRANKLIN & BASH:
KERSHAW V. LINCECUM

It's a depressing sign of just how bad Franklin & Bash has gotten that the two leads coming up with the legal strategy of declaring their former boss a sex addict to restore his law license is the most sane and rational thing they've done.  Despite my growing love for baseball, Kershaw v. Lincecum as a title went over my head.  Making matters even worse, despite their featured role the baseball rivalry between the Giants and the Dodgers plays no role in Kershaw vs. Lincecum.  In fact, not much plays a role in this Franklin & Bash episode, apart from showing both their general incompetence and at last fulfilling my long-held idea that Breckin Meyer's Jared Franklin is a homosexual in denial, both about his sexual orientation and his love for his partner/best friend, Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). 

As befits the fact that business at Infeld Daniels Franklin & Bash, LLC. is drying up, we only one case for the boys to be involved with.  A divorce case comes their way, in the form of Chelsea Beckman (Kate Beahan), who wants a divorce from her husband.  They take the case, which especially pleases Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), who is thoroughly smitten with Chelsea.  Only one problem: unbeknown to the boys, Chelsea happens to be the wife of Dr. Beckman (Willie Garson), the plastic surgeon who is subletting their office space. 

Do I hear 'conflict of interest'? 

Now the boys have a dilemma: they could work with their client and take Dr. Beckman to the cleaners, or they could please the only major source of income and not take the case, or at least make things hard for Chelsea.  This situation isn't helped by eager-beaver attorney Anita Haskins (Toni Trucks), who is desperate to win her case and start going to court as lead counsel.  She pushes ahead, despite Franklin & Bash's delicate balancing act between serving their client and serving their patron.

As if that weren't all bad enough, the building owner Nate (Ken Weiler) now has the temerity to ask for the two month's back rent Franklin and Bash haven't been able to come up with.  They ask for a longer grace period, but he won't go for it...unless they can get the Infeld Daniels season tickets to the Dodgers game which the firm has behind home plate.  Jared immediately promises that, even though he and Peter both know they had to sell those tickets to keep afloat.  And who do you think now has those tickets?


That's right: Franklin and Bash's favorite nemesis, Damien Karp (Reed Diamond).  He of course won't give them the tickets...unless they can score a table at an exclusive restaurant by the end of the week.  Jared, once again, immediately says done and done.  Only one problem (seriously, have Franklin & Bash producer/creators Kevin Falls and Bill Chais simply run out of ideas?): there's a six-month waiting list to get in.  Peter knows this, Jared doesn't.

No problem: they will use their charms to convince the chef to let them squeeze in two more.  Here, the manageress, Jocelyn (Christine Donlon), after some beers and a little Truth or Dare, gets them to a Dare.  She tells Jared to kiss his partner.  Where, he asks.  On the mouth, she says.  Thus, after four years of subtle suggestions, "Elmo" Jared Franklin finally fulfills his unspoken desire to kiss his 'life partner', Peter Bash. 

Whether this is all a rather sad and desperate ploy for ratings or an acknowledgment that at least on Jared's part, he may be a repressed bisexual or homosexual in denial I don't know.  In any case, this lip-lock is built up to a 'make-out' session by their erstwhile boss, Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell), who is now crashing at the beach-house the boys are living in (even though, technically, the house is Infeld's and they have been living there basically rent-free).  Despite the lips a'flame, she still can't squeeze them in because of fire codes stating a certain number of people.

No problem: they know someone in the Fire Department who can help them lift that number. 

Seriously, this is getting so out-of-hand, it's beyond sad. 

Well, their fire captain has this speeding ticket...

Let's wrap all this up shall we.

Anita fixes the ticket (even though she had to show the Wildlife Court, which is trying the case because it was a state park where the speeding and rolling past stop signs took place, her old law firm's card to impress the court), which allows the fire captain to add the number of occupants (but whose inspection closes the restaurant due to asbestos).  The chef, Sebastian (Ricardo Mamood-Vega) is convinced to cook a special meal for two (that being Karp's clients) in exchange for staying a free weekend at the beach-house (Sebastian being passionate about surfing), which in turn frees up the Dodger tickets, which in turn allows them more time in their office.  As for the divorce case, it looks like the pre-nup is solid, but with a little trick they are able to show that Dr. Beckman cheated on his wife...with his wife. 

Dr. Beckman had been giving Chelsea free plastic surgery, and to everyone's surprise he in a bizarre Frankenstein-like way had been subconsciously turning his wife into an old girlfriend. 

Finally, Franklin and Bash convinced the law license board that Stanton Infeld was in the grips of his sexual addiction when he got screwed by Rachel King (and thus incapacitated in his thinking) by presenting a smorgasborg of witnesses detailing his wild sexcapades (including, curiously enough, at least one man he helped join the 'mile high club').  Dr. Beckman decides that, his marriage ended but realizing his errors, he will move to Paris, where he will dedicate himself to perfecting the perfect breast...and throw in a few cleft palate surgeries for the Smile Train on the weekends.


I don't know why Franklin & Bash has crashed so spectacularly.  In fairness, Kershaw v. Lincecum isn't as dreadful as The Curse of Hor-Aha, so at least it has improved.  However, that's like saying a patient has improved because he's gone from Ebola to syphilis.  Kershaw v. Lincecum really couldn't be worse than the disaster that was the Season Four premiere, but it isn't to say it's any better.  About the only real improvement was not having the flat-out creepy Danny Mundy in the episode (though I lay the blame more on the script than on Anthony Ordonez, who I think did the best he could with what he got). 

That, however, doesn't excuse Trucks' rather peppy take on Anita (a poor substitute for either Carmen or Pindar).  Last week, she was passive-aggressive (emphasis on 'aggressive'), pushing the boys to get her to try cases and 'not be third chair'.  Guess what she was in the divorce case? 

That's right: third chair.

Kershaw v. Lincecum also has strange, even contradictory, plot points.  Unless Chelsea kept her maiden name did no one wonder why a "Mrs. Beckman" showed up in their law office?  Did it not strike Chelsea even the slightest bit odd that she would go to a law firm where her husband had his office?  The entire set-up to the divorce case is a bit muddled: either she got a sudden impulse to divorce Dr. Beckman and went straight from his office to Franklin & Bash's office or she had this thought out and decided the most rational course of action was to go where her husband was basically providing the funding for said law office.

Furthermore, it does seem strange that, despite their desperate financial straits, they would take a case that was so dangerously close to home.  Again, conflict of interest...

As all that wasn't bad enough (and it was pretty bad, if not sad), we get this cliché of 'one promise leads to another, with hilarity ensuing'.  Hilarity did not ensue.  Instead, all this quid pro quo business seemed to merely stretch out an episode that was so shockingly hollow.  It was almost like watching a scavenger hunt, and not an interesting one at that.

Finally, as for "The Kiss".  Again, I don't know if it was to give fans like me, who have long suspected Jared Franklin to be either bisexual or a homosexual in denial, a way to confirm the suspicions or a way to wink to those who think Jared and Peter's relationship is far more intense than viewers thought.  Still, the more things go on the more curious they get.  At one point Jared describes their kiss as 'hot', and I ask you, what straight man ever says that kissing another straight man was 'hot'?  Perhaps in gay porn movies, but apart from that it all seems so strange that these two are compelled by the silliest of reasons to share a brief moment of physical intimacy.  If they had been drunk, perhaps, and granted they were a little buzzed, but really?  Truth or Dare? 

Aren't these two, well, 40 years old? 

That, however, may not be as sad as seeing Malcolm McDowell's nude romp or Stanton Infeld's sex confessions.  It all smacks of either desperation or 'we just don't care anymore' on the part of the participants.  At a certain point in Kershaw v. Lincecum (when they are negotiating with Karp for the Dodgers tickets) I think I sensed that both Gosselaar and even Meyer (the more eager of the two in this sh*tpile) know all this is crap and played it as such.  It's as if everyone in front of and behind the camera has pretty much given up on making a good show and are just going through the motions, waiting for the ship to finally sink. 

Really about the only good thing in Kershaw v. Lincecum was Diamond (who still has the smug, dismissive nature of Karp down pat, especially in his dismissiveness of how Anita could find himself with these to nitwits) and the Smile Train shout-out.

Somehow, even by the low standards of what is suppose to be a frothy show (though TNT for some odd reason declares Franklin & Bash a 'drama'), Kershaw v. Lincecum sucked.  It just sucked.  There's no way around it. 

Then again, I get the sense that Jared Franklin would really love to suck... 


Jared Franklin's Dream Comes True At Last...


2/10

Next Episode: Love is the Drug

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Oscar: His True Life Story

George Arliss as Benjamin Disraeli in Disraeli
The First Biopic Oscar Winner

 
TUESDAYS WITH OSCAR:
SPECIAL EDITION

If you want to win an Academy Award for acting, here's my advise: play a real-life figure. 

Biopics are catnip to the Academy.  Oscar voters have some bizarre weakness for actors who play historic or at least famous people.   They seem to think that if one plays a figure from history, you are doing something more extraordinary than playing either a character already created (say, a Hamlet) or one created by the screenwriter. 

I can't explain why the Academy has this weird fixation for awarding acting prizes for biopics, but there it is.  The odds of one winning, or at least receiving an acting nomination for playing a real person are considerably high.  I have some evidence to prove that theory.

You know I stretched as an actor.
I played a Texan.

When it comes to the Best Actor category, this is the one where if you are playing a real person, your chances are winning (or getting a nomination) are tremendous.  In the 86 years of the Best Actor category, there have been 87 winners (one year a tie was declared).  Out of those winning performances, an incredible 23 were for portrayals of real-life men; the first in the Second Academy Awards: George Arliss won for playing the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in Disraeli.  The most recent?  Well, this year (alright, alright, alright). 

In total, 70 performances (not specifically 70 actors, as people like Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, and more recently Leonardo DiCaprio received multiple nominations for playing historic figures) that were based on real people earned nominations, making a total of 83 times the Academy has acknowledge biopics with wins or nominations (sometimes both the same year).

That's a remarkable success record.  If one looks at the last ten years (2003 to 2013), SEVEN of the ten winning performances went to actors in biopics.  They are:

2004: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles (Ray)
2005: Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote (Capote)
2006: Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin (The Last King of Scotland)
2008: Sean Penn as Harvey Milk (Milk)
2010: Colin Firth as King George VI (The King's Speech)
2012: Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln)
2013: Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff (Dallas Buyers Club)

Seven out of ten. 

Then there are the ones in the same time period which didn't win.

2004 was a bountiful year for nominated biopics.  There was Foxx in Ray, then there was Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina (Hotel Rwanda), Johnny Depp as Sir J.M. Barrie (Finding Neverland), and DiCaprio as Howard Hughes (The Aviator).  Only Clint Eastwood's performance in Million Dollar Baby was from a fictional source. 

Then there was:

2005: Joaquin Phoenix and David Strathairn as Johnny Cash and Edward R. Murrow in Walk the Line and Good Night, and Good Luck respectively.

2006: Will Smith as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness.

2008: Frank Langella as Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon.

2009: Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus.

2010: Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco as Mark Zuckerberg and Aron Rolston in The Social Network and 127 Hours respectively.

2011: Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball.

2013: Leonard DiCaprio and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Jordan Belfort and Solomon Northup in The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave respectively.

Only in 2003 and 2007 were all five Best Actor nominees from non-biopic films. 

Funny Girl Meets Dower Duchess

The Best Actress, perhaps unsurprisingly given how Hollywood has been to women, is not as big on biographical films as their male counterparts.  Here, we have a mere 18 wins and 49 nominations.  Interestingly, while the first actress to win for a biopic wasn't until the Ninth Academy Awards when Louise Rainer won for her portrayal of Anna Held in The Great Ziegfeld, the Best Actress' only tie came with both winners winning for playing real-life figures.  Barbra Streisand won for playing Broadway comedienne Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and Katharine Hepburn won for playing Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter

If we look back at the last ten years, surprisingly SIX of the ten wins for Best Actress went to a biopic.

2003: Charlize Theron as Aileen Wournos in Monster
2005: Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line
2006: Dame Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen
2007: Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose
2009: Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side
2011: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady

If we look at the nominees in this decade, we have the following:

2005: Dame Judi Dench as Laura Henderson in Mrs. Henderson Presents
2007: Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth: The Golden Age*
2008: Angelina Jolie as Christine Collins in Changeling
2009: Helen Mirren, Carey Mulligan, and Meryl Streep for playing Countess Tolstoy, Jenny Mellor (pen name for Lynn Barber), and Julia Child in The Last Station, An Education, and Julie & Julia respectively
2011: Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn
2012: Naomi Watts as Maria Bennett (in real life, Maria Colon) in The Impossible
2013: Dame Judi Dench as Philomena Lee in Philomena

This isn't to say that the men and women didn't deserve to win (though I would debate Whitaker, Streep, Day-Lewis, McConaughey and especially Bullock).  I think some of the winning performances were truly deserving.  It just seems to me that, when it comes to winning Oscars, those who appear as someone else seem to have a leg-up on the competition.

And this doesn't cover fictionalized versions of real people, like Broderick Crawford's win for All the King's Men, playing a character based on controversial Louisiana Governor and Senator Huey Long, or Gene Hackman's win for The French Connection, where Popeye Doyle was based on a real New York City detective. 

Joseph Schildkraut as Captain Alfred Dreyfus
in The Life of Emile Zola

The Supporting Actor and Actress don't have nearly as much luck in winning for playing real people as their Lead counterparts.  For Supporting Actor, the record is 12 wins, 53 nominations (pretty poor I think).  Supporting Actress is much better: 15 wins and 26 nominations.  Now, the Supporting Actor/Actress categories weren't established until 1936, so they are a few years behind. 

However, in these past ten years only one actor has won the Supporting Actor Oscar for playing a real-life figure.  Christian Bale won for playing Dicky Eklund in The Fighter.  In the past decade, there have been a total of 13 nominated performances based on actual people (Jonah Hill's two nominations, inexplicable as they may be to humanity, stem from his playing real people, though their names were changed).  Out of all the categories, the Supporting Actor has the worst track record for biopic wins.

Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave.
Technically, she's the first
Mexican woman to win.


 
The Supporting Actress has a similarly spotty record in the last ten years, even though it can claim three wins compared to the Supporting Actor's sole victory: Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, Melissa Leo as Alice Eklund-Ward in The Fighter, and Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave.  There have been only seven nominated performances for real-life performances this decade.
 
Granted there are other factors to winning an Oscar apart from the genre.  There's the actual performance, the popularity and critical acclaim of the film, and your competition (McConaughey, for example, had been rolling over DiCaprio and Ejiofor for months). 

As I look at this list, however, it seems clear that if one is a male in a biopic or at least playing a real-life person, you have a better chance of at least being nominated if not winning if you are the lead.  If you're the supporting role, your chances go way down.  For women, the odds are pretty good regardless of category.  They might actually be slightly better if you are the Supporting player.

Word to the wise should you want to win an Oscar.

We Are Not Amused...
*It should be noted that Blanchett had been nominated previously for playing Elizabeth I in 1998's Elizabeth, making her one of the few people to be nominated for playing the same role in both a film and its sequel.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Moffat-Nerdist Complex

FRAUD

This is MY guarantee to you, my readers: in the words of Shirley Chisholm, I am 'unbought and unbossed'. 

I do not think I can say the same about Chris Hardwick and his crew at The Nerdist.

I have been relentless in my criticisms of Doctor Who/Sherlock writer/producer Steven Moffat.

The Nerdist, on the contrary, has been euphoric in praising Moffat.

Now I know that Mr. Hardwick and his minions may see things entirely different than I do.  They may all truly believe that Moffat has ushered in a new Golden Age of Doctor Who, that Moffat is greater than someone like a Robert Holmes, and that Sherlock may be the greatest adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories in all human history. 

I, however, do not accept that their adulation for all things 'nerd', such as Doctor Who and/or Sherlock, is built purely on fandom alone.

From Singled Out
to Whoring Out


The problem with Hardwick and The Nerdist is that they are simply too invested in culling favor with the people they cover to be truly objective.  In short, they are not honest dealers. 

Their reviews I don't believe can be trusted because above all else it is important to entities like The Nerdist to keep on the good side of production companies like the BBC or major studios.  The Nerdist, in short (no pun intended), need to please their masters (like Moffat) or risk losing the exclusives that the studios give Hardwick & Company, who in turn use them to get the fanboys/girls and the world at large to listen to them as 'experts' (and/or provide revenue through advertisements or perhaps personal appearances). 

This is why Doctor Who and Sherlock episodes are almost always praised (and perhaps create an echo chamber of positive press).  Yes, there may be an off negative review (though I have yet to find one), but by and large even the most bizarre or flat-out disaster will find something that will please The Nerdist.  How can you criticize the work of someone like Steven Moffat when you depend on the person you are covering (example: Steven Moffat) to provide information to parcel out to your readers? 

Hardwick and The Nerdist are simply too close to the source to be trusted as objective, impartial arbiters of what does and does not work.  You can't criticize someone you are in bed with, and who provides a big chunk of your livelihood. 

The best example of this is the After Who Special, which aired post-Deep Breath on BBC America.  While the DVR description described Hardwick as 'super-fan', suggesting a run-of-the-mill fellow, the nefarious nexis of sycophant to production company is clear by the line-up.  One of the guests was Sherlock/Doctor Who writer (actor frankly is too much for me to accept) Mark Gatiss.  If one reads the closing credits to After Who, guess who happens to be an executive producer of said special? 

That's RIGHT: Mark Gatiss.  You really expect 'super-fan' Chris Hardwick to find any flaw with Deep Breath, or Doctor Who/Sherlock in particular when your guest is also paying your bills?  I think not.

Even nerds thought it was bad,
save for one Nerdist...

A strong example would be After Earth.  Despite looking high and low online the only thing I could dig up in regards to a formal review from The Nerdist about After Earth was a brief article about the potential for a teaming of Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan being 'intriguing'.  Yes, their teaming might have been intriguing at the beginning, but the end results were so disastrous no one with any real credibility would say they were good.  Curious that I could not find a formal Nerdist review for After Earth, unlike one for a highly-praised film like Guardians of the Galaxy (which I myself was enthusiastic about in my own take on the film).  In fact, Guardians of the Galaxy had pages and pages of articles devoted to it (cast tours of the set, fan art, video of Vin Diesel recording his dialogue, mash-ups with other films, more GOTG films/crossovers), but for After Earth, only two (and the other one had nothing to do with After Earth, just a quick mention of it being among big-budget films like Pacific Rim, which was the actual content of the article). 

After Earth was just a bridge too far for even The Nerdist, so perhaps I am wrong...they may be redeemable.

However, back to Doctor Who and Sherlock, the main thrust of my growing disdain for all things Nerdist.   Let us look at a few examples of the sycophantic cheerleading that passes as objectivity at The Nerdist.   Our first example is The Nerdist review for The Rings of Akhaten, from Doctor Who's seventh season.  In its opening, it acknowledged that there wasn't much plot, but far from being a hindrance, it was not as important as the fact that Kyle Anderson, the reviewer, found it "surprisingly very sweet and touching".  He praised Jenna-Louise Coleman, whom he called "the absolutely perfect companion" (begging the question, 'As compared to whom?  Perfect compared to a Sarah Jane, a Romana, an Ace, or even a Rose Tyler or Donna Noble?') and hoped that the rest of Season Seven could be at the same level.

If we are to believe Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge), Rings of Akhaten received mixed reviews, so Anderson's ebullient commentary put him in the minority.

Next, we turn to Nightmare in Silver.   This episode, also from Series Seven, was much more negative.  Among the kinder comments were The Radio Times, which called it a "Cyber-flop", The Independent, which bemoaned the lack of logic in the story, and myself, which put it as one of the worst Doctor Who stories of all time.

Anderson, for his part, could not be more enthusiastic about Nightmare in Silver.  He declared that with Nightmare in Silver, there was no 'sophomore slump' against Neil Gaiman's previous Who script, The Doctor's Wife.   He praises the battle between the Doctor and "Mr. Clever", the Cyber-Programmer inside the Doctor's head.  Anderson even mocks the Cybermen's fatal weakness of gold (something that the co-creator of the Cybemen, Gerry Davis, and Robert Holmes, arguably Doctor Who's greatest writer, had come up with and established as Canon in Revenge of the Cybermen in 1975).   It might have grown overused, but hardly the idiocy Anderson so smugly dismisses.  Despite some misgivings, Anderson again heaps praise on Nightmare in Silver, declaring the script 'clever and witty'.

Kyle Anderson is free to believe anything he wishes, and perhaps he is completely honest in his appraisal of Nightmare in Silver.  However, 'clever and witty'?



Perhaps more alarming and disturbing in Anderson writing about Sherlock.  I read his review for A Scandal in Belgravia with piqued interest.   By now, anyone who reads Kyle Anderson knows that as far as he's concerned, Steven Moffat is the new Rod Serling (perhaps even above The Twilight Zone creator/writer).  He called A Scandal in Belgravia, and I quote, "the archetypical Steven Moffat story; it's clever, it's full of sexual innuendo, it has a brassy woman, and in the end, everything is connected".

One wonders whether Kyle Anderson wrote this, or just quoted from the yet-unreleased documentary, Moffat on Moffat.

The fact that Anderson loved A Scandal in Belgravia is not the actual point.  Many people loved A Scandal in Belgravia and think it among the greatest moments in television history.  It was this section that caught my eye, presented in its entirety.

Now, let’s talk about Irene Adler. She is an incredibly smart, savvy, industrious, dangerous, and sexy woman, absolutely tailor-made for the Moffat treatment. Ever hear of a person named River Song? Moffat eats up women like this on a silver platter. It’s like he wants all women to be the screwball comedy version of Emma Peel. Within Sherlock Holmes, Adler is the closest thing he could possibly have to a girlfriend. He doesn’t exist in a physical or sexual world; he’s got no time for it. But he has the utmost respect for her intellect, which is the only thing that Sherlock Holmes values. She proves to be a match for him, a worthy mental sparring partner. Her allegiances lie only with herself, or to whoever pays her the most, and often, that isn’t Sherlock. Because Moffat is who he is, he’s made her a dominatrix and she wears very little throughout. Like all of his women, there will undoubtedly be allegations of sexism in the way he’s written the character, but I think he’s just writing women the way he wants them to be. It’s the same thing Howard Hawks did. They like sexy women who talk like men. (Emphasis mine).


First, Anderson supposes that Sherlock fans are Doctor Who fans too.  He does this by bringing up River Song.  I figure there are a few Sherlock fans who haven't seen Doctor Who, so the reference would be lost on them, and some Doctor Who fans who had never seen Sherlock (like myself, until recently), so that's no real point of reference.   Second, Anderson supposes that River Song is beloved by everyone, which is hardly the case.  In certain circles, River Song is detested.  I myself find her smug, self-absorbed, murderous, egocentric, and quite evil.  Hardly the stuff of legend.

Even all that, it is the second highlighted section that should be given special attention.  "Like all his women, there will undoubtedly be allegations of sexism in the way he's written the character."  Steven Moffat sexist?!  Perish the thought!

Perhaps Anderson knows that "Steven Moffat Sexist" is one of the most searched terms on Google regarding "The Moff", and perhaps Anderson knows about this, or this, and this, and this.   However, the phrasing of that last sentence makes me openly wonder whether Anderson (and The Nerdist at larger) went beyond reviewing A Scandal in Belgravia to actually advocating and/or defending Moffat against all enemies foreign and domestic.  It sounds less like an objective examination of the episode and more of providing cover against the oft-evoked accusations of sexism if not downright misogyny.  If Anderson wants to defend Moffat or serve as an advocate or champion of the same, he is free to do so.  However, he cannot be both a prosecutor and defense attorney (prosecutor regarding his writing, defense attorney regarding his writing) at the same time.      

Finally, in his comparing Steven Moffat with Howard Hawks.  Hawks' women were intelligent, strong, and unafraid.  Moffat's women are 'needy', in need of a man rescuing them, and reliant on them.  Women's greatest role is to be a mother (even if it makes them unattractive).  River Song: didn't she go into archaeology in order to find 'a good man'?  Wasn't Irene Adler "Sherlocked" and rescued by Sherlock in the end?  Wasn't both River Song and her mother Amy Pond's great hope to get The Doctor into bed (and perhaps with the sexual avarice of Song, a little ménage a trois entre mere et fille can't be ruled out)?

I think Howard Hawks and Steven Moffat are worlds apart in every way imaginable: in terms of talent, of style, and of how they saw women.  Sorry, Kyle: your assertion doesn't pass the smell test.

Me in league with the studios to promote their product
while pretending to be 'just a fan'?
That's unpossible!

In truth, Hardwick and his cohorts are no different than film critics who attend press junkets and wouldn't DARE say anything bad or point out to the artist in question that their product (film, television program, music) doesn't work.   They know which side of their bread is buttered, and won't do anything to embarrass their Lords and Masters. 

I don't expect that one has to give bad reviews in order to be 'honest'.  I have taken a lot of heat by anti-Moffat/NuWho groups for not trashing The Unquiet Dead or The Eleventh Hour.  However, I stand by my views.  A real reviewer (I don't like to call myself a 'critic' because that implies negativity) will judge something by how good or bad it did what it set out to do.  If I think Moffat, or Mark Gatiss, or any other writer did good work, I'll say so.  I have been invited to change my mind on certain reviews and on occasion, I have revisited something and found my views have changed. 

It is only when almost EVERYTHING that a particular writer/producer does is 'brilliant' that I am highly troubled.  It is only when a review takes up time to run defense for the subject of his/her review that I am highly troubled.  These are the reasons why I don't believe The Nerdist is a good review site.  It's a great place to get tidbits on things nerd-related (comics, films, television, video games), but when an organization that is suppose to cover something objectively instead becomes an unofficial advocate for them, they are not watchdogs but lapdogs.  The Nerdist can call itself anything it wants, but one thing it is not is a source of true objective reviewing.

Yes, I am Moffat's Bitch,
and I'm the richer for it.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Vamp, The Tramp, and the Scamp




PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON THE TWILIGHT FILMS

I have long promised to wrap up my thoughts on the Twilight series (excuse me, SAGA), but school and other reviews have kept me from that.  While tomorrow I begin a new semester, I think it is finally time to wrap this up with my Concluding Thoughts on Twilight

If I understand the story correctly, Stephanie Meyer was inspired by a dream to begin what I call 'the erotic musings of a frumpy hausfrau'.  Her dreams brought America one of the great nightmares of modern literature: the cycle of books collectively called the Twilight Saga: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn

These four novels can surprisingly be easy enough be summarized. Bella Swan, recent transplant to Forks, Washington State from Arizona, finds herself attracted to a mysterious, brooding, pale figure named EDWARD CULLEN*.  Said EDWARD CULLEN is perfection: perfect body, perfect soul, wealthy, and most importantly, enthralled with Bella despite her being a plain, ordinary girl.  Even though there is nothing particularly special about Bella (she doesn't consider herself beautiful, or smart, or talented, or athletic), EDWARD CULLEN sees her as she really is: the ideal Woman.

Like all romances, this one has a couple of complications.  First, we find that EDWARD CULLEN is a vampire.  Second, another boy with whom Bella has been friends with, one Native American Jacob Black, is also passionately in love with Bella (for a girl who believes herself rather ordinary, she certainly inspires wild passion among the menfolk...even the dead dream of our fair Bella).  Complicating THOSE matters is that Jacob Black is a werewolf, and the werewolves of Jacob's nation and the vampire Cullen clan have an uneasy peace.  It also slightly complicates things that Jacob Black has become this muscular behemoth who is equally erotic to the minds of our youth.

In any case, through three of these novels Bella wavers slightly between the gentle soul of EDWARD CULLEN and the hot body (in every sense of the word) of Jacob Black.  Of course, since EDWARD CULLEN has a pretty fit body for someone who's been dead nearly a century the choice is pretty clear.  Therefore, in a revolutionary act of female empowerment...she saves herself for her wedding night and submits to her perfect husband.

Now, where does that leave our hunky native boy?  Well, no worries: after Bella's near-death experience when giving birth to a half-vampire (surprisingly not named Blade) and achieving her lifelong dream of becoming an undead herself, Bella and EDWARD CULLEN's daughter Renesmee is 'implanted' with Jacob's memory, thus little Nessie is now virtually betroth to a man old enough to be her father AND who will become his ex-girlfriend's son-in-law. 

Makes the River Song/Doctor Who storyline almost rational by comparison, mais oui?

I see a man, and am ashamed of my gender...

And this tale is what I'm told women of all stripes consider the love story of the age: a tale where women are virtually subservient to men, where women have no real identity outside of their man, and where plain girls drive all men into fits of erotic frenzy where they have waited literally centuries to have them in their arms and bed.

My personal theory is that the reason Twilight has become this phenomenon to teenage girls (and those who think like them) is due to audience identification.  Bella, by her own admission in her mumbling, narcissistic way, is rather ordinary.  She's not breathtakingly beautiful.  She's not graceful.  She's not intellectual.  She's in short, pretty ordinary and plain.  However, she is able to not just attract, but fascinate and sexually arouse all manner of manhood, and one type in particular.

The man who is passionate about this 'plain Bella' is one who is physical perfection, who is sensitive (he plays the piano!), who is part of the 'in-crowd' (though given that the only thing to recommend the Cullens is their wealth and horribly pale skin, they really do nothing in high school to merit the other students fascination), and who above all else, worships her.  To top that off, Bella finds herself the object of passion and fascination, not just from EDWARD CULLEN (the popular kid), but from Jacob Black (the extremely built guy) who has an insanely jealous streak, and even from mere mortals (I was always Team Mike myself).  Throw in that Bella finds herself in the center of this epic struggle between werewolves and vampires, where SHE is the object that sets off this war, and it's enough to turn any girl's head (no matter how empty). 

I Like Mike...
 
This audience identification where the female readers put themselves in place of Bella is surprisingly quite narcissistic.  Bella (and by extension, the reader) is the single most important thing in the world.  Everything does revolve around them.  Women, who may see themselves in Bella (the ordinary girl) do find themselves swept up in the idea that in truth, the 'perfect' man will see them as these divine beings worthy of worship.  The fact that these men have waited for them, that they have to restrain themselves sexually until SHE is ready (and hold back on their intercourse lest the women perhaps literally explode) all feeds into women's views that they are somehow far grander than their appearance may suggest.

As a digression, it brings to mind something my cousin said.  I don't know if she read any Twilight, but she did comment that she was 'selective' when it came to whom she considered dating.  I think that many women, thanks to Twilight and its fan-fiction bastard Fifty Shades of Grey series (excuse me, SAGA) have now adopted this 'selective' mindset.  They will winnow out all these Mike-like beings to find someone like EDWARD CULLEN, or Jacob, or Christian Grey.  Sadly, the world is more full of Mikes than EDWARD CULLEN, so I imagine many women and men are or will end up alone due to the 'selective' nature of women who feed on Twilight and/of Fifty Shades erotica. 

And for the record, my cousin is still single. 

I can't quite explain how someone so ordinary can be the object of desire among so many, but then logic was never Twilight's strongest point.  However, I do believe that the idea that this perfect being can see through the ordinariness of a 'plain Bella' to discover the woman perfectly suited to him is one of the driving forces of Twilight's insane popularity with women.  Women put themselves as Bella, and they see that these perfect men (plural) want them, want them sexually, want them spiritually, want to be with them for 'time and eternity' (to use Mormon theology).

What would Joseph Smith say?

Stephanie Meyer is Mormon, and while Twilight can't be read as strict Mormon allegory, the connection between Twilight and LDS theology is worth looking into.

Mormons believe that a man and wife can be 'sealed' for as they phrase it, time and eternity, that is, they remain married after death.  Twilight holds that Bella after she is turned into a vampire herself can live out her existence married to her equally undead husband EDWARD CULLEN forever.  Curiously enough, the theme of being together 'forever' is an important one in Twilight

Mormons hold that one must wait until being married to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.  Bella did just that.  In fact, despite her constant protests to EDWARD CULLEN to 'change' her (I read, deflower her), EDWARD CULLEN (like any good Mormon boy) constantly refused, insisting they had to be married first.  Granted, evangelical Christianity and Orthodox (and perhaps Conservative) Judaism holds the same, but I find that non-LDS Christians and Jews are a little less strict about such matters.  Many Christians that I know who had those 'promise rings' ended up having sex sooner than my non-Christian friends, and if memory serves correct one Brigham Young University basketball star was benched for having premarital sex. 

BYU doesn't mess around...in more ways than one.  I doubt Brandeis or Georgetown (a Jewish and Catholic university respectively) would be that strict. 

Mormons also have a curious fascination with the occult.  I visited Utah as part of my goal to visit all fifty states, and while there stayed with friends who work for a Christian university group.  They told me that while Easter (the day Christians commemorate the Resurrection of Christ) isn't a big deal, Halloween is a massive festival in Salt Lake City (where they are stationed, well, technically a suburb, but why be picky).  It isn't surprising that Halloween is big in Mormon circles: Mormons believe in baptisms for the dead (where an LDS member can serve as proxy for an ancestor and be baptized into the Faith, which also explains Mormon obsession with genealogy).  What better mix than Mormonism (where one be remain married even after death) and Halloween (where ghosts are prevalent), and throw in the vampire, the original undead?

From Missionary to Macabre
(found in the official TITP website)

At the This is the Place Heritage Park, where Brigham Young announced that the Mormon settlers would find their Zion (and which I found a strange mix of Frontierland and Colonial Williamsburg), they have some interesting celebrations for a Christian denomination.  There's the Witches Ball, the Haunted Village, and the Little Haunts.  Yes, there are Christmas events, but I can't imagine either church I was involved with (Crosspoint Lutheran and Cielo Vista, which I think is non-denominational but began as Baptist) ever going for a Witches Ball. 

I can't say whether the Mormon idea that the Native Americans are descendants of one of the Lost Tribes of Israel (thus making a Sioux a Jew) influenced Meyer, but it is interesting that Meyer would pick a Native American as the third part of the love triangle.  Granted, setting her novel in Washington State having a Native nation lends itself naturally.  However, I do wonder whether having a Native American boy (and he is a boy, since he, unlike EDWARD CULLEN, is still a teen when all this is going on) is doing what many Anglos have done: sexualize the Native American.

Jacob Have I Loved...

Jacob, as a Native American, is 'the Other', a hot native boy who is there to pant (in more ways than one) for the WASP heroine.  The sexualizing of 'the natives', be it American Indians, or Indians from the Subcontinent, or "Latin Lovers", or the stereotype of black men as well-endowed, is something which Anglo writers and filmmakers have apparently not let go of.  Twilight, to me anyway, serves as the latest example.  He really has no life, no existence outside Bella.  He's almost always shirtless (which for our frumpy Mormon housefrau, is as erotic as she can get).  Jacob isn't an independent being, one who has his own aspirations.  Instead, all his aspirations revolve around Bella: around wooing her, bedding her, and now bizarrely, bedding her daughter (who in theory is old enough to be HIS daughter). 

Curiously, this idea that this young girl is now basically destined to marry this much older man and spend eternity with him...

Now, perhaps it is time to touch on the books themselves.  The Twilight books are awful in terms of writing.  I tried to read it three times, but found it so idiotic I couldn't get through it.  Instead, I opted for the audiobook, and many times did I burst out laughing at how stupid Bella appeared to be.  "I can't believe someone as beautiful as EDWARD CULLEN would be interested in me," she at one point intones.  Again, here is our heroine, being defined by how someone else sees her rather than how she sees herself.  When I heard about how EDWARD CULLEN was literally sparkling, I laughed for five miles, then repeated it so I could laugh some more.

Making the case for sterilization...

I find the books to be like the readership: shallow, narcissistic, insipid, witless, and dumb.

Granted, it is difficult for me to judge ALL the books given I have listened to just one, but nothing in Twilight made me want to read anymore. 

The appeal of Twilight isn't in the writing (it's so bad that Fifty Shades of Grey, which I called Twilight with S&M, started out as Twilight fan-fic).  I hold that it is the fantasy aspect, the idea that an ordinary woman can inspire wild erotic passions and make her the center of this universe where all sorts of wars and dangers are being endured for her sake.  It is about women losing themselves to a man who is perfect in every way and who realizes that she and only she is perfect in every way.  Whether it is good that a woman in her fantasy life believes that her only purpose is to marry (note that the idea of college is completely out of the question for Bella, or that she had an epic meltdown that left her in hysterics when EDWARD CULLEN left her, even if it was for her own good) and have no life apart from her husband (and provide a child, though none of the Twilight Twits have ever answered how a vampire can produce sperm). 

On that point, I refer to Andrea Gabriel, whom I met at the El Paso Comic-Con (or EPCON).  I flat-out asked her how a vampire produces sperm, and she just looked at me with a sort of despairing face.  "You know, I don't know. I'm just an actor playing a part," she replied.  To her credit, she had a sense of humor about it all, jokingly offering to call Stephanie Meyer and asking her.

There is that little question of logic.  Vampires now have reflections? How DOES a vampire produce sperm?  There is no way Bella could get pregnant, but again, since when was logic Twilight's strong point?

I've said a lot about Twilight.  I like saying a lot, especially after waiting so long to say something.  However, all things must end so let's wrap this up.

Twilight the books are garbage.  The characters are no-dimensional.  The protagonist is a narcissistic, vapid young woman who encourages other girls to think that they have no real raison d'etre apart from the man they are obsessed over.  She is narcissistic because despite her constant proclamations about her ordinariness, she believes that all these men, natural and supernatural, are as equally enamored of her as she is of them (and up to a point, as she is of herself).  The situations, even for a supernatural story, are idiotic.  The all-encompassing mythology nonsensical.

Twilight the movies are all awful.  The performances are blank. Kristen Stewart takes the mumblecore method to new lows, committing herself to playing the role how she wants to given what three directors all let her do it the same way.  Robert Pattinson looks pained every time he's on screen, serving as nothing more than the idealized boyfriend who is as obsessed with Bella as Bella is obsessed with Bella (and EDWARD CULLEN too), Taylor Lautner having nothing to do except show us how well his body turned out.  Only Ashley Greene showed any lightness in a story so self-serious. 

The fact people think the Twilight series (excuse me, SAGA) is good to great is a sad sign for American culture.




THE END OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION...

* I always refer to him as EDWARD CULLEN because, judging by the books, this is how everyone, even Bella, Jacob, and apparently EDWARD CULLEN'S family refers to him as.  I don't think I ever heard anyone refer to him as Ed, Eddie, or my nickname for him, Sullen Cullen.  No, as far as I can tell, he was always called EDWARD CULLEN (full name), so this is a mild form of mockery.