Thursday, November 30, 2017

Gotham: Let Them Eat Pie Review



GOTHAM: LET THE EAT PIE

Let Them Eat Pie was a two-story Gotham episode.  There was the main story of Professor Pyg's most nefarious and oddly camp scheme.  The minor story was Bruce Wayne's continuing slide into decadence and self-indulgence.  There is so much to recognize in Let Them Eat Pie that I though quite well of.

So why then am I giving this a pretty negative review?

Meat Pies.

Professor Pyg (Michael Serveris) is pretty much done with focusing on the corrupt cops on the Gotham City Police Department.  He now has his sights set on the elites, those who are causing the rot in the GCPD.  The bad professor is going all Occupy Wall Street now, with his plan involving him dressing up as Father Guido Sarducci with a slight Yiddish accent and finding homeless people.

The homeless, once their bodies are found, are missing organs.  Why would Professor Pyg target the homeless, let alone take their organs?

Meat Pies.

Captain James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is still furiously tracking down Professor Pyg, and he comes close to capturing him, but Pyg manages to take Gordon's partner, Harper (Kelcy Griffin) hostage.  Eventually, Gordon figures out Pyg's plan thanks to the clues he's left: he will literally feed the homeless to the elites of Gotham, seeing as how they have been metaphorically living off the poor for decades.

At the top of Pyg's hit list are Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and his only friend, Sofia Falcone (Crystal Reed).  Sofia is hosting a private fundraiser for her orphanage, and despite Pengy's suspicions that she is the one that elevated Gordon to Captain, he eventually agrees to go.  It looks like despite himself he has bonded with Martin (Christopher Convery), one of the orphans he sees as a kindred spirit. 

Pyg takes the diners hostage and presents them with their Meat Pies, along with a photograph of the people behind the pies.  He tells them to eat the poor, or the kid gets it.  When Sofia objects, Pyg stabs her in the hand.  When one of the elite says to let the kid die, an enraged Pengy stabs him in the head, then he starts eating the pie.

Pyg, already drawing way too much inspiration from Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, decides to go all-in on his oddball celebration of musical theater by doing his own version of Cell Block Tango from Chicago: the Meat Pie Tango.

Like anyone other than maybe Penguin would know what Pyg was referencing.

Gordon manages to storm the dinner, though Penguin tries to stop him shooting.  "He'll kill the kid!" Pengy screams in terror before Gordon pushes him away, with Penguin rescuing Martin.  The major fight has Gordon finally capturing Professor Pyg, but Penguin still knows Sofia is up to something.

Martin's report of her kissing Gordon troubles Pengy.


With Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) still slipping into being a drunk buffoon, Alfred (Sean Pertwee) tries to set him straight, but Bruce will not hear of it.  Their annual outing to remember Thomas Wayne ends with Bruce leaving Alfred in the forest while he runs off in the car.  An angry Alfred tries to get Bruce to see the error of his ways, but Bruce pulls rank.

As I reflect more on Let Them Eat Pie, I am struck at how wildly camp Pyg became.  It's not many psychopathic killers who look to Broadway for inspiration, and there seems to be something really wild, if not bonkers, about having a man with the head of a pig break out into a little Kander & Ebb, complete with dance routine.

Meat Pies.

It's already bad enough that we got this rather grotesque idea of killing the homeless, who to my mind did not deserve such a cruel end.  However, I simply cannot go along with the idea of cannibalism.  Maybe the reason Pengy did it was because he already had done it: he had performed the same stunt Pyg did when he forced his stepmother to literally eat her son and daughter.  In Into the Woods, at least we got the hope that Penguin hadn't actually cooked his stepbrother & stepsister, but in Let Them Eat Pie, there wasn't much doubt.

I think because I didn't accept the actual cannibalism in Into the Woods, perhaps my repulsion of Let Them Eat Pie was more intense.  Also, earlier we got glimpses of pigs eating a human.   All of it somehow was far more than I could accept or tolerate, and think this time Gotham went way too far.  The whole thing struck me as hideous.

It's a pity since so much of Let Them Eat Pie worked so well.  The fight between Pyg and Gordon was exceptionally well-done, tense and exciting.  Cerveris was camp but it seemed appropriate (except for the Father Guido Sarducci bit, which was just weird, even for Gotham).  We continue to see that the acting is top-notch, particularly with Robin Lord Taylor and David Mazouz.

The former showed a surprising tender, gentle side, a touch of heart and humanity when it comes to Martin.  The rage when someone suggests Martin should be killed, the terror of putting his life at risk: it looks like despite himself Pengy has the capacity to love.  Seeing him try and turn Martin into a Mini-Me (Mini-Pengy) is both cute and touching.

Whether this extends to any romantic feelings for Sofia remains to be seen, but given he essentially came out of the closet to go after the not-seen Edward Nygma, it would be highly bizarre.

With regards Mazouz, his journey into self-indulgent anger continues to showcase how much he's grown: the mix of anger, hurt and regret coming across clear.

There wasn't a bad performance, which shows Gotham to be a good show.  However, the cannibalism was just too much to take.  Perhaps in the course of time I will modify my views, but the cannibalism thing so disgusted me that the reaction is still too strong for me to mark this episode higher.



2/10

Next Episode: Things That Go Boom

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Battle of the Sexes: A Review (Review #976)



BATTLE OF THE SEXES

I would not go so far as to think that Battle of the Sexes was the 2016 Election Revisited, though the temptation to see an analogy is there: the smart, capable woman leading a battle for equality against a loutish, boorish hustler who talks a lot and says gibberish.  I will say that Battle of the Sexes is one of the biggest disappointments of the year, squandering a story that is ripe for drama and excitement and drowning it in a vat of dry platitudes bordering on moral self-righteousness.

Tennis pro Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is frustrated, even angry, that female tennis players are being paid an eight of what the men are paid by the professional circuit.  Her insistence on equal prize money is rejected by Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), who insists women don't attract the same number of viewers as men.  With that, she bolts the Tennis Association and under the guidance of Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), she and other female tennis players form their own league, with the female-geared Virginia Slims cigarette brand coming on board to sponsor them.

As a side note, I'm old enough to remember the cigarette company's tagline: You've Come a Long Way, Baby, a tagline that I imagine some women would find offensive today for two reasons: one, women are referred to as 'baby', and two, it's a cigarette company.


As the Women's Tennis Association gains momentum, even managing to get another female tennis superstar, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) on board, the married Mrs. King finds herself in the throes of a sexual awakening, having begun an affair with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough), a hairdresser.  Soon, Billie's liaison becomes an open secret, where almost everyone seems to know.

Everyone except Billie Jean's husband, Larry King (Austin Stowell), not to be confused with the former CNN host.  As the WTA designer Ted (Alan Cumming) comments, 'There's knowing...and then there's knowing'.  Eventually, Larry does find out that his wife has been unfaithful, and unfaithful with a woman, though unlike a lot in Battle of the Sexes, this is never openly discussed.

This domestic drama would be of little interest to Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a former Wimbledon champion who is a gambling addict.  His wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue), whose father got Riggs a cushy job, is not happy with his addiction.  When he manages to win a Rolls-Royce, the very wealthy Priscilla orders him to return it and kicks him out.

Yes: your husband wins a Rolls-Royce and your instinct is to force him to return it and kick him out.  Talk about First-World Problems.

Riggs won't give up on his gambling, but he is forced to stay with his son from a previous marriage, Larry (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill Pullman).  Riggs then hits on a brilliant idea: men vs. women in a tennis match.  Riggs manages to get King's phone number but she declines.  Riggs, however, gets an unexpected break when Court takes King down as the Number One female tennis player, and she agrees to an exhibition match.

The 'Mother's Day Massacre' has Riggs defeat Court, despite him being 55 to her 30. King takes this loss personally, as a blow to her push for gender equality.  With that, she agrees to take on Riggs in a match.

As King dutifully prepares herself for this exhibition match to the point of making herself ill, Riggs is basking in the limelight.  He delights the press with his antics: wearing silly costumes at practices (when he bothers to practice, much to Larry's frustration), cavorting with pretty young girls, even posing nude.  He loves the attention of being a 'male chauvinist pig'.

At long last, the actual "Battle of the Sexes" takes place, and while Riggs actually manages to put up a good fight, King is triumphant.  The film ends with Ted telling King that one day we'll be free to be who we are and love who we love, but for now...she needs to celebrate having changed the times.


It's pretty astonishing that Battle of the Sexes came from co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy.  Beaufoy has written an Oscar-winning script (Slumdog Millionaire) and some other good films (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, 127 Hours).  As such, there is simply no explanation that I can find to make sense of this dry, dull, pedantic script.  Battle of the Sexes should be and could have been an exciting feature about a proxy fight to make gender equality closer to reality.

Instead, Battle of the Sexes is a lousy script, making things so dry, rote, and sometimes unintentionally hilarious.  I have no way of knowing whether or not the film sticks close to the truth when it comes to Larry and Billie Jean's relationship, but late in Battle of the Sexes, Larry obliquely offers his wife a chance for him to send for her mistress.  Real or not, this not only made Larry one of the greatest cuckolds of all time, but a shockingly wimpy one.  His discovery of his wife's infidelity/lesbianism is when, after he and Marilyn both simultaneously stop at Billie Jean's hotel room, he finds a pink bra in the bathroom.

The music, the imagery, and Stowell's performance all try to make this look so heartbreaking.  It ends up looking hilarious: the pink bra broke this seemingly perfect marriage!  I was reminded of Airplane!, when, as the husband suffers from food poisoning, the wife thinks 'Jim never vomits at home'.

There's something wildly wrong with a movie when a 'dramatic scene' reminds you of Airplane!

As a side note, it reminds of a story I read about how Queen Alexandra sent for her husband's mistress, Alice Keppel, as King Edward VI was dying.  On hearing this, another person commented she too would have sent the King's car to Mrs. Keppel...to run her over.

Moreover, Battle of the Sexes sometimes thinks the audience knows or should know more than it does.  There are many examples of this.  To quote Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story, Billie Jean King 'just went gay all of a sudden', the music and imagery doing the heavy lifting to illustrate her apparently sudden sexual desires, or Marilyn hitting on a married woman with nary an indication that King was anything other than straight.  When Margaret 'The Arm' Court joins the circuit, I asked, 'Who's Margaret Court?'  We had never seen or heard who this figure is, so when she joins the tour the other female tennis players are delighted, but non-tennis viewers will be puzzled.


We also have stabs at the personal with Riggs, though seeing his son pop out of nowhere does not help, nor his sudden and unexplained decision to not join his father at the Astrodome where the exhibition match is at.  As we were told how King was going to approve all aspects of the 'Battle of the Sexes', I have to figure she approved of being carried to the match on a Cleopatra-type throne.

For those of us not alive at the time of Battle of the Sexes, we just wonder where almost everything is coming from.  We can also wonder whether the film was more interested in King's growing lesbianism than in her actual tennis match, as the film wants to have it both ways.  It wants to make her burgeoning sexuality a major part of the story where apparently everyone winks at it, but also wants us to cheer this opaque figure on her fight for gender equality.

The coy nature of King's sexuality goes into sometimes odd territory.  Court never sees anything overt between King and Marilyn except perhaps for King's flustered manner.  Out of that Court starts talking about how these types of tennis tours open up 'licentiousness' and 'sin'.  Where did THAT come from? 

The performances by the leads were good if not exceptional.  Carell insists that he is a supporting player, and while some have backed up his claims I find the idea that he wasn't the co-lead flat-out idiotic.  There was a lot of attention paid to his Riggs, a man who was clearly doing the 'male chauvinist pig' shtick for pay.  Bobby is never interested in proving male superiority.  He just wants to take the money and run.  Stone does a competent job as Billie Jean King, but again I never felt anything special towards her or why either of her journeys: her discovery of her lesbianism or her fight for equal pay, were worth the time.



It's the supporting players who by far were awful.  There's the aforementioned Stowell, battling hard to make the milquetoast Larry interesting.  There's Silverman as the loudmouth boss and Riseborough as 'the other woman' who seemed neither passionate for Billie or all that eager for much.  Shue looked almost disinterested as Priscilla, whether in telling Bobby they couldn't stay together or in making him return the Rolls-Royce (again, another moment that comes across as unintentionally hilarious).

Bill Pullman from the get-go is made out to be this horrible sexist, but the problem is that Bill Pullman has been a 'nice guy' in films for so long even he can't muster the credibility to show Kramer off as the bad guy.  His Kramer was in turns cartoonish and unconvincing.  In a smaller role, Fred Armisen comes in and has little to say or do as Riggs' pill-pusher in another performance that was hard to take seriously.

Battle of the Sexes wants us to care about the actual tennis match and have us think this is a big thing but it never made the case as to why this tennis match was a big thing.  The film is so dry, so remote, stuffing so much and rushing off to the next thing: counter the first 'battle of the sexes' simplicity, even dignity, to the carnival-like nature of the second where we get no rationale as to why Court lost.

Seeing a film about that Riggs/Court match would have been more interesting.

About the only interesting things in Battle of the Sexes were when we got to see archival footage of the times that do reflect the casual sexism of the era.  It's a surprise to hear Chris Evert (later Chris Evert Lloyd) suggest that Riggs could beat King, see football great and needlepoint aficionado Roosevelt 'Rosey' Grier be the only major celebrity to side with King (his adding that she was pretty gives it an ironic touch), or hearing Howard Cosell's commentary as King is paraded in that if she let her hair grow out and took her glasses off, she might get a Hollywood screen test.

The actual 'battle of the sexes' might have been important to gender equality, or maybe it had an impact as a colorful spectacle.  It could still be an interesting story.  It's unfortunate that Battle of the Sexes, right down to a boring closing song, If I Dare, failed to take up the challenge.

Billie Jean King: born 1943
Bobby Riggs: 1918-1995


DECISION: D-

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Last Dalai Lama?: A Review (Review #975)


THE LAST DALAI LAMA?

I imagine that the question mark at the end of The Last Dalai Lama? is there to make it a rhetorical statement rather than a declarative one, though I imagine the Chinese Communist government would be more than happy to change the question mark to an exclamation mark.  Despite what one might think, The Last Dalai Lama? is not about the politics of His Holiness' struggle for Tibet.  It is pretty much a literal question as to whether The 14th and current Dalai Lama will indeed be the Last Dalai Lama, but the film takes a while to get there.

The Last Dalai Lama? is a sequel to the documentary Compassion in Exile, made twenty-five years ago by the same writer/producer/director, Mickey Lemle.  Mixing his past interview with His Holiness with an updated one, along with the Long Life Celebration to mark His Holiness' 80th Birthday, the film covers a bit of what is generally known: the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet in 1950, the forced exile of Tibet's spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, his interactions with the West.

We hear a lot from the people influenced by the Dalai Lama both from 1992 and 2016, when the film was made.  We hear from the former and current Deans of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (a church that I have always considered a bit on the esoteric side versus orthodox Christianity).  We hear from composer Philip Glass, who wrote the music to Compassion in Exile which is used in The Last Dalai Lama?, and we hear from former President George W. Bush, the first President to be seen publicly with His Holiness when His Holiness received the Congressional Gold Medal.  President Bush, Jr. also shows the portrait of His Holiness that he painted, art now a major hobby for our former Commander-in-Chief.

It takes a while to figure out what The Last Dalai Lama? actually means.  It might be thought that the film was asking whether the XIV Dalai Lama will be the last one because there will be no real legitimate successor after his death.  This is extremely possible given that the Chinese Communist government passed a law in 2007 declaring that they had the power, if not the actual responsibility and duty, to find the current Dalai Lama's reincarnation.

The current Dalai Lama has a clever retort to this idea: the people will know the Chinese government's true sincerity on the matter when they not only acknowledge the reality of reincarnation but can find the reincarnation of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Instead, the title refers to His Holiness' declaration from 2014 that "he will not be reincarnating and there would be no Fifteenth Dalai Lama".  However, the Dalai Lama in the film leaves a little wiggle room, where if I understand things correctly, he may come back, but definitely born outside Tibet unless he sees conditions changed.

Despite this, His Holiness reaffirms his position of a quarter-century past, that he still does not hate the Chinese.


The Last Dalai Lama?, despite giving us that intriguing title, doesn't actually tackle the idea that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama may be the literal last Dalai Lama until near the end of the film.  Moreover, the question relates more to the esoteric question of his potential reincarnation than on political rationale for there being no successor to the Dalai Lama.

The film mentions that the Chinese government has made clear it would essentially select some poor schlub to sit on the Potala Palace throne.  Even one who has the most cursory knowledge of the Tibetan situation could figure out that the Chinese would select their own Dalai Lama to legitimize their occupation of Tibet, a variation of when the last Emperor of China was made the puppet Emperor of the Japanese-occupied Manchuria, which they called Manchukuo.

The question, however, relates to elements that to Western or secular minds sound down a bit bizarre.  The reason that this man may be the literal Last Dalai Lama is not because the Tibetan method of finding the reincarnation cannot be verified under current circumstances, but rather because the current Dalai Lama has declared that he will not reincarnate.

A bit like The Doctor on Doctor Who refusing to regenerate, though on Doctor Who he really can't actually refuse...he will, whether he wants to or not, until he is finished with his regeneration cycle.  I personally suspect His Holiness has made this declaration as a strategic move, to stop the Chinese from picking someone they can control and bend to their own will.  By saying he will not reincarnate, he is removing a weapon from the Chinese's arsenal to use against the beleaguered Tibet.

However, the hints His Holiness is leaving allow for a very light crack to open to a potential successor.  It's a very long game His Holiness appears to be playing, but The Last Dalai Lama? does not touch on these aspects.

Instead, like many films and documentaries on His Holiness, The Last Dalai Lama? is content to showcase His Holiness in a positive light.  It is easy to like His Holiness, who reminds me of Old King Cole (with his perpetual grin and soft laugh, His Holiness seems a 'merry old soul').  We learn of his interests in education, which in some schools use Tibetan Buddhist ideas.  A visit to a Canadian school showcases not just the mind-body connection, but also the idea of 'mindfulness'.

A very exited and nervous teacher asks the children after his visit, "Did you use your mindfulness?", which to me sounds a bit hippie-drippy, but there it is.

The Last Dalai Lama? is a respectful, respectable portrait of the Monk from Lhasa and touches on the idea that we may literally not see his like again.  Whether the film should or could have featured more about the ramifications of His Holiness' declaration of no return is something the viewer should answer for him/herself.

DECISION: B-

Monday, November 27, 2017

Strike (1925): A Review


STRIKE

In terms of cinematic debuts, I cannot think of many that equal Sergei Eisenstein's Strike.  There's Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, but other than that I cannot think of a debut film that is a brilliant work of cinema. I'm not comparing Strike with Welles' first film, but Welles had more advantages than Eisenstein.  Strike is a work of propaganda, and there is a touch of clunkiness to it.  However, we can see how Eisenstein went from this to his series of epic Soviet films and became one of the leading lights of cinema.

Divided into six 'chapters', Strike is the story of overworked factory workers at the mercy of fat tycoons and their network of spies to keep them in check.  One day, Yakov Strongin, humble worker, is accused of having stolen a micrometer worth 25 rubles, or three weeks' salary.  Having no recourse: either leaving in shame and branded a thief or having to sacrifice nearly a month's work, he hangs himself in the factory.

This is the impetus for the strike, as the workers, horrified and angered by this, decide to take matters into their own hands.  They demand such things as an eight-hour workday, civil treatment by management, and a 30% pay raise.  They also ask for a six-hour workday for minors, but let's not quibble on small details.

As the factory grows silent, the management takes no interest in settling things.  Instead, they get their agents to stir up trouble, culminating with bringing a crackdown under false pretenses.  As the strikers grow more restless and agitated, things come to a shocking conclusion when the military comes in and slaughters the strikers.

The finale has one worker calling out, "REMEMBER!" "PROLETARIAN!"



Make no mistake: Strike is Communist propaganda through and through.  The film begins with a quotation from Lenin himself, as well as an endorsement from the Soviet newspaper Pravda, which called it 'the first revolutionary work of our screen.

As a side note, it should be noted that Pravda means 'Truth' in Russian, ironic now given that 'Pravda' is shorthand for any time 'news' organizations pump out propaganda or straight-up lies to their audiences.

Regardless of how one sees the politics of Strike, the film itself is an astonishing work.  Eisenstein uses montage and symbolism brilliantly, and in terms of cinema Strike has more than earned its place in cinema history as an important work.

This is because Eisenstein knew how important the visual was to tell its story, and some of the visuals are downright astonishing especially given the time and limited technology.

For example, there is a shot of four photographs of the factory spies, which then come brilliantly to life in a seamless transition that leaves one astonished.  There is also astounding editing when we see the 'blind' man looking at us and showing his disability was fake.


Perhaps the most legendary use of imagery is near the end, as we see a cow slaughtered and cross-cut that with the slaughter of the masses as the troops march over the dead. It creates the emotional impact of the horror of the mass killing and links it emotionally with that of the cow being sliced open, its blood flowing out.

As a side note, I cannot help but think that Strike, or at least Eisenstein, influenced directors like Lewis Milestone, for the ending of All Quiet on the Western Front draws inspiration from the Eisenstein method.  Just as Eisenstein used the slaughtered cow to symbolize the slaughtered people, Milestone had the young men marching to their graves, a sea of crosses as they go towards their own unnecessary deaths. 

You can also see how the killing of the workers and their families would later be used and better-filmed in Eisenstein's follow-up to strike, Battleship Potemkin and the famous Odessa Steps sequence.

The technical achievement of Strike leaves one almost overwhelmed and overpowered.  The final moments of the 'scream' of 'REMEMBER!" and "PROLETARIAN!" make clear that Strike is a call to arms.  The film ends abruptly here, almost shocking the viewer into action.

Still, as astonishing as Strike is visually, leaving one almost breathless in its fire and fury, it is still a product of its time when it comes to the acting.  To call it vigorous would be an understatement.  Sometimes you wonder how even the collective called the Proletcult Theater thought they weren't over-the-top.

Guess when you are overthrowing a dictatorship to impose another one, you don't have time to study Method acting.

Strike shows its age in more ways than one, but in terms of visuals and the emotional push the film has, it still is a landmark achievement.

DECISION: A+

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Dolores: A Review


DOLORES

Whether one loves or loathes Dolores Huerta, the subject of the documentary Dolores, depends on one's ideological stand.  Those on the Left will love her as this pioneering icon.  Those on the Right will loath her as this pinko crackpot.  The truth, I have found, almost always falls in the middle.  Dolores is firmly on the love side, painting Huerta if not as a saint then as a passionate political advocate.  Dolores is not critical of the subject.

It also isn't all that enlightening either.

Dolores Huerta saw the injustice that poor migrant workers were put through: low pay, no sanitation, no water for long, backbreaking labor.  With that, she joined forces with another person concerned for migrants, Cesar Chavez.  By the time she and Cesar united, Huerta had a long track record of political activism in Sacramento, the California state capital.  It was a passion, one that took her away from her eventually eleven children and time to enjoy her beloved jazz music.

She gave herself fully to 'La Causa' or 'The Cause'.  It meant that she did not have creature comforts and that her children were in essence neglected.  "The Movement became the most important child," one of her children remarks in Dolores.  Huerta has little to no regrets about that.

Her advocacy eventually did earn dividends, but there were other battles to fight.  She soon saw that there was a need to unite her cause with the growing feminist movement of Gloria Steinem, even if at first she was the rare pro-life feminist until Steinem set her straight and Huerta adopted liberal orthodoxy on abortion despite her strong Catholicism.

There was also the battle against the Teamsters, who were muscling out the United Farm Workers.  There was her strong affiliation with Senator Robert F. Kennedy, including being beside him when he won the California primary on the night of his assassination.  There was when she finally was forced to slow down her peripatetic life when she was beaten at an anti-George H.W. Bush rally in San Francisco.


The worst or lowest point was when Chavez died in 1993.  The leader of the UFWA had been the only leader many Mexican-Americans had known.  Perhaps others expected Huerta to assume the presidency of the union, but she was not selected.

Whether this was due to the fact that she was a woman or not we do not know.

Leaving the organization that she not only established but that in a sense gave her her identity was extremely difficult, but Huerta is not one to be in a rocking chair and reminisce.  She founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation and continues, at 87, to agitate for whatever she believes in.

Dolores is an interesting story of a woman who defied many barriers, but it is not the whole picture.  I would say that Dolores is not an exploration of who Huerta is but a celebration of what Huerta did and what she believes.  There is nothing wrong with that, and even her detractors can draw many lessons about her life.

Dolores shows the true power of the individual to affect change.  It shows that gender and ethnicity are not impediments if one chooses not to be bound by them.


However, part of me was frustrated that a lot of things were either papered over or ignored.  For example, the Chicano movement may rightfully honor and respect Huerta, but the Chicano movement was extremely sexist, downright chauvinistic, in its attitudes about women.  Despite what she said about her longtime companion, Cesar Chavez's brother Richard ("I wouldn't say Richard was a feminist, but he was a great cook"), the sense of Machismo still runs strong among many Mexican-American men.

Dolores lightly touches on that when she says that she pushed to have more women involved, but despite that no female has taken on a major leadership role in the Chicano movement, at least not on Huerta's level.

As a side note, Dolores made me wonder if there was a wide cultural difference between California Mexican-Americans such as Huerta, and Texas Mexican-Americans like myself.  The experiences that shaped Huerta were not mine nor my family's, so despite being from the same ethnic group I think our worldviews are not the same.  They may at certain points be similar, but not the same.

Then there was when she was caught on audiotape saying "Republicans hate Latinos".  That may be true, but I imagine many Latino Republicans would take umbrage at that.  Dolores never allows for anything close to rebuttal or if memory serves correct, even expansion into why Huerta thinks that.

That statement was a poor one, allowing her opponents to use it against her, but it is neither challenged or defended, something I found very curious.

Dolores does touch on her private life with her children (not much on Richard, save for when people pointed out that she had 11 children by three men including one not her legal husband opened her up to accusations of adultery), but how she reconciled her Catholic faith with her support for abortion is not explored.  It just is.  Perhaps Catholics can separate the two: since I'm not Catholic I can't say.



As another side note, perhaps because I am not Catholic, I again found it hard to cheer when she would say "Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!"

There were some wonderful moments in Dolores, such as when Steinem said that upon RFK's assassination, she had never seen 'the death of the future'.  There were also moments of lightness: a party where Huerta boogied on down.  These moments not only brought a touch of humanity to someone held as a living icon, but were moments that on a personal note, I could relate to.

After all, Dolores could be one of my Tias ('aunts' to you gavachos).

Let's be blunt: Dolores Huerta and I don't see the world the same (I, for example, was never With Her like Huerta was, even if Mama Hillary making a cameo in Dolores).  I respect her, I admire her, but I don't always agree with her.  Maybe one day she and I can have a chat over champurrado and mole.

Dolores is a loving portrait of this firebrand, and not an analytical one.  Again, if you love her, you'll love Dolores.  If you hate her, you'll hate Dolores.  For myself, I like her, would like to learn more, but doubt she'll win me over to her democratic socialist side.

Born 1930

DECISION: B-

Friday, November 24, 2017

Requiem for a Heavyweight: 1956 vs. 1962



REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT: 
THE TELEVISION PLAY (1956) VS. 
THE THEATRICAL FILM (1962)

Having seen both the television play and the theatrical film version of Requiem for a Heavyweight, it seems to me that despite appearances, they are almost different films.  I put a lot of this dichotomy at the feet of Rod Serling.

My sense is that Serling might have felt pressure in the Playhouse 90 version to give viewers a sense of hope.  Once he got to work on the film version, he let his darker impulses and tendencies take over.  He was free to indulge in darkness and give the ending he would have wanted: a sad, dour, unhappy one.  Serling could expand on the story, free from the confines of limited technology and peppy commercials.  He could be a 'real' artiste.

Pity that in this case, Serling appeared to have misread the public, who didn't share in his morose view of the world.  The television version of Requiem for a Heavyweight was highly praised, even winning a few Emmy Awards including one for Serling.  The film version, however, failed at the box office.

Even more interesting is that in this case, the remake not only had the same writer from the original, but the same director: Ralph Nelson.

You had the same people make the same story, but what I found that they were not the same.  It wasn't just that one took a far different turn than the other.  It was that by expanding the story, Serling and Nelson could bring in more, but what they brought left me highly dissatisfied.  I did feel that at a certain point, I was watching them do a bait-and-switch.

BEST MOUNTAIN



Jack Palance
Anthony Quinn

Jack Palance won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of the washed-up boxer looking for redemption and a new life.  Quinn did not get any Academy Award notice.  Granted, awards are not the only or exclusive measure of the success or failure of something, but in this case, I'm going with Jack over Tony.

There are some good reasons for that.  First, while Mountain was supposed to be poorly educated, Palance was at least intelligible.  Sometimes I simply could not make out what Quinn was saying.  I know both of them had an affected voice to make the simpleness of Mountain, but I could never shake the idea that Quinn was being very 'actory', giving a performance.  Palance, for me, was Mountain.  Quinn was playing Mountain.

What nailed it for me was when each had the scene at the employment office and both declared that they were 'almost the heavyweight champion of the world'.  When Palance said that, it was a declaration, a desperate effort to show that he was a somebody.  When Quinn said that, it was as if in resignation, not so much stating a fact as he was almost tossing it off.

BEST ARMY



Ed Wynn
Mickey Rooney

There were many naysayers when it came to broad vaudevillian Wynn playing a straight dramatic role, including his own son and costar, Keenan.  Ed Wynn himself was highly nervous about his very first role that did not require him to play things for laughs.  However, Wynn absolutely astounds as the moral conscious of Requiem for a Heavyweight.  It's an absolutely pitch-perfect performance, and anyone who didn't know of Wynn's past as a comedian would never have guessed this was the same man who would play the giggling Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins.  It's no surprise he earned an Oscar nomination for The Diary of Anne Frank, as removed from yucks and slapstick as possible.

Rooney, on the other hand, simply  had nothing to do in the film version.  He might just as well not even have been in the movie.

BEST MAISH



Keenan Wynn
Jackie Gleason

Keenan Wynn was quite good in Requiem for a Heavyweight, but he was not The Great One.  I think that Gleason did a better job of making Maish the sleazy, corrupt manager who still had pangs of guilt over what he had done to someone who genuinely loved him.  This is the rare time when expanding the story worked in its favor.  Gleason had a scene with the character of Grace that showed that maybe, just maybe, he really did think Mountain was not fit to be a camp counselor.  I still think he was lying to himself and that he did not have Mountain's best interest at heart, but Gleason's performance leaves room for doubt.

To be fair, Wynn did not have this scene, and his performance was quite strong.  However, I still think Gleason's performance was better.

As a side note, I have always wondered if "Maish" is a play on "Mensch", the Yiddish term for 'a man of integrity'.  Was Serling being ironic?

BEST GRACE



Kim Hunter
Julie Harris

You're rather spoiled for choice, aren't you?  Both Hunter and Harris are fantastic actresses and either one would be worth watching.  It's by the thinnest of margins, the absolute thinnest of margins, that I give it to Hunter over Harris.

Believe me, this is not an easy choice.  Either one would be great because both of them gave standout performances.  I think, in the end though, I lean towards Hunter only because she wasn't as googly-eyed to Mountain as Harris was directed to.  Yes, both fell in love with Mountain, but Hunter was also a genuine friend and not just the romantic interest.

Again, by the thinnest of margins.

BEST DIRECTOR

Ralph Nelson (1956)
Ralph Nelson (1962)

In a strange case of the same director for both versions, I think Nelson's directing of the television special outdid his work on the theatrical version.  The constraints of television in budget and time forced everyone to be more inventive, and minus a punch that was unconvincing, the television version of Requiem for a Heavyweight moved me tremendously.

The film version had some fantastic moments, in particular the opening scene from the P.O.V. of Mountain as he's punched out.  After that, though, the film version at times slipped into some strange moments (the main mobster turning out to be a woman in drag, a lot of boozing).  Moreover, Nelson could not get anything out of Rooney, let Quinn be a bit more dramatic than he perhaps should have been, and seemed to take the focus from Mountain to Maish (Requiem for a Manager?).

BEST VERSION



1956
1962

The television version and the film version diverge after Mountain meets Grace.  First, we get into a long digression into Maish's plans to stop Mountain from having his business meeting, something that did not happen in the television version.  Maish and Grace never meet, let alone allow Maish to make a somewhat convincing case for his reasons to keep Mountain as a virtual slave.

The most obvious divergence is in the ending.  The television play has Mountain leaving for his Tennessee home, where he starts informally training a little boy while the mobsters get Maish and Army to take another young, hungry fighter under their wing.  The film version has Mountain staying with Maish, where instead of Mountain rejecting Maish's insistence to be a wrestler and in a sense, take a dive, he willingly humiliates himself by donning Indian garb to the mockery of the wrestling audience.

In short, the television version gave the audience if not a straightforward happy ending, at least hope. The film version drowns in despair and misery.

That, I figure, was Serling, a man who saw the world through a glass darkly.  Now that he could do a film version of Requiem for a Heavyweight, Serling could indulge his cynicism and morose worldview without having to tailor it to the demands of television audiences.  He could tell THE TRUTH.

Sadly, I think Serling failed to see that what people respond to is hope, not despair.

Moreover, by having Mountain stay and degrade himself to save Maish, he did something radically different with the character.  In the television version, Mountain leaves of his own free will.  He is true to himself.  He is the victor, and he now has a chance to start again.

In the film version, Mountain stays, thus becoming subservient.  He is defeated, even if we are essentially told that Mountain did it for good reasons.

Serling changed the motivation for Mountain, from staying true to his values (he never took a dive) to surrendering them out a sense of loyalty (he took a dive).  Mountain, therefore, no longer has free will.  He may have wanted to do good, but the television version gives Mountain the exact same choice, and he took the one that led to finding himself, not being the inferior to Maish.  The television version even gave Maish a chance at redemption when the new young fighter comes along (Maish, despite himself, was a good manager).  The film version introduces a new young, hungry fighter, but Maish has the luxury of throwing him to the side.

Mountain is going to be a dance-monkey for Maish.

I think this is where Serling let his darker impulses get in the way.  The unhappy ending in the film version is how he would have liked it, and how he thought the world was.  The hopeful ending in the television version may not be how the world is, but how the world should be.

Sometimes, Rod, we need happy endings.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Reviews of Two Short Films: Beautiful Dreamer and POP

For today, I have opted to review two short films rather than take up separate reviews for each.  They are Beautiful Dreamer and POP.  Going in alphabetical order, we'll start with Beautiful Dreamer.




BEAUTIFUL DREAMER

Beautiful Dreamer is the first of the two short films I will review.  It runs 26 minutes long.

Mom (Jo Armeniox) has a terminal illness, so she stretches the remaining two years by going into space where she moves at the speed of light.  She is able to visit her daughter Amy (played by Lila Savage Taylor at age 3, Caroline Bednar at 10, and Natalie Smith as an adult) once every seven years.

As she visits Amy at various points of her life, the relationship has its ups and downs.  Amy embraces her mother early on, then rejects her as a teen, only to navigate this relationship while living out her life, where Amy has children of her own, and then grows into old age, where Amy's children don't visit.  As their time starts slipping towards its conclusions, Amy and Mom go together into space, where they will bend time together.

Director and co-writer David Gaddie, who wrote the screenplay with Steven Kelleher, created an extremely moving story on the brevity of life.  Based on Memories of My Mother, a short story by Ken Liu, Beautiful Dreamer does a beautiful job of making the viewer think about the questions the story asks. 

If you knew you had a short time to live, would you stretch out your days to last into decades for a brief glimpse of your child, or would you perhaps take an alternate route and live out those days with someone too young to really remember you when you leave? As Mom points out, she would have died by the time Amy turned five, so when Elderly Amy (Lynn Cohen) asks her mother whether it was worth it, it's more for us to answer.

Beautiful Dreamer touches on an important truth: no matter how old or young we are, we all yearn for our parents.  Even those who are senior citizens now were children once, with mothers and fathers they loved and who hopefully loved them.  All people, in their various levels of narcissism, forget that, but Elderly Amy's cries of "Mommy" hit us because it is so real to the human experience.

Gaddie drew out beautiful performances from Armeniox and Smith as the mother-daughter team.  In a brief running time, we see them work out their relationship, one that has feelings of guilt, abandonment, laughter, regrets, and most importantly, love.  Armeniox has a quiet performance, one where she communicates with her voice and manner the desperate desire to hold her child but not being able to, while Smith shows the complexity of Amy: from anger to acceptance.

In many ways, Beautiful Dreamer is quite universal: how at times we can't stand to be with our parents only to long for their touch one more time when they are gone.  It uses its science-fiction veneer to speak to how fragile and quickly lives go.

Credit should also go to cinematographer Shawn Green for creating eerie imagery, particularly when we see time go past.  The visual effects were also quite well-crafted, especially given that Beautiful Dreamer was a small-budget film. Beautiful Dreamer even ends with a haunting song, Anywhere by Guy Brown, that would probably be a Best Original Song contender if the song was written for the film and if Beautiful Dreamer was expanded to a feature-length work (which perhaps it might, though it's quite good as it is now).  

While the film may remind some of The Age of Adeline, with the daughter growing older while the mother stayed the same, this is not to say The Age of Adeline and Beautiful Dreamer are the same.  They just happen to touch on similar points.

Beautiful Dreamer touched me on a very deep, personal level.  It may be due to the fact that one of my best friends died earlier this year, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, so a short film on the brevity of life would hit me harder than normal.  It may also be due to the fact that I am thankful that I still have my mother with me and that our relationship has grown smoother over the years after some turbulence.  I found Beautiful Dreamer a very touching and moving short film, with strong performances and a haunting visual style.

DECISION: A-


POP

POP is the second of the two short films, and at ten minutes, it may be the shortest live-action film I have reviewed.

Bruno the Clown (Simon Conlon) is facing career doldrums.  His latest gig at a children's birthday party is a disaster.  The kids are bored, the adults inattentive, and he is not doing a particularly good job either.  The nadir comes when he 'magically' turns a stuffed rabbit into a real bunny in a tutu.  Encouraging the birthday girl (Lila Eversgerd) to hold it, the bored child begins to cry, saying the rabbit bit her.

Bruno goes home and crashes out on his couch, having downed a beer.  He slips into a dream where he ends up floating away when he over-inflates a balloon until it pops.  He ends up on the floor with a gash in his head, the result of crashing into the bottle.

At the hospital, he is still sad until he hears laughter in the next bed.  Pulling the curtains, he finds a child being entertained by 'Dr. Molly' (Briar Seyb-Hayden), a female clown.  Dr. Molly and Bruno have an impromptu double-act for the sick kid (Henry Clarke) and find that they are kindred spirits.

POP may not have great special effects (the green screen in his dream sequence is obvious) or be revolutionary; it may not even be strictly logical (how Dr. Molly and Bruno can work so easily in their double-act without it being rehearsed is a stretch to believe). However, given it's a short film, one that like Bruno wants nothing more than to please, you have to be generous with it.

I found POP to be cute and whimsical.  Writer/director/producer Karen McPherson created a love letter to the idea of the importance of whimsy and making people smile.  POP is mostly a silent film, with the only actual dialogue between the birthday girl, the mother, and Bruno, which revealed their Australian background.  I wonder why McPherson didn't go all in and make a straight silent film, which POP could have easily been.

Still, Conlon was excellent as Bruno: world-weary without being morose.  Seyb-Hayden was also sweet and charming as 'Dr. Molly': given that her name tag read 'Dr. Molly' and she had on a clown nose and a generally funny outfit under her lab coat, I figure she is not a real doctor.

As a celebration of the need for joy in this world and the innocence of a truly receptive audience (the birthday party looked hopelessly dull), POP was a delight.  McPherson was clever in showing the adults talking in the background, oblivious to both the children and how disastrous Bruno was in his act, and she shows she has great talent and hopefully like Bruno & Dr. Molly, a bright future ahead as a writer/director.  Perhaps it's me, but I see a touch of Jacques Tati in POP.

DECISION: B+

The Rabbit Hunt: A Review (Review #971)


THE RABBIT HUNT

It seems fitting to have, on this Thanksgiving Day, a brief film about food.  Only it isn't turkey.  No, it's wabbit season in Florida, or at least in this review of The Rabbit Hunt, another documentary short.  The Rabbit Hunt is an interesting slice-of-life of a tradition that I had never known.  It would have been better if director/producer Patrick Bresnan had put a little more context in the film itself, but what we have is well-crafted, if more opaque than needed.

We follow an African-American family who go down to a sugarcane field being harvested.  The various members work around the edge of the reapers, which have an unintended benefit: drawing rabbits out from the fields into the open.  The various members, though it is mostly young men and boys who do the hunting, start chasing after the rabbits, using sticks to either chase them or beat them for capture.

It's fast work for obvious reasons, and at the end of the hunt, they manage to capture sixteen bunnies.  Off home they go, where they skin them, wash them, sell a few to a police or sheriff officer who is apparently a friend, and cook them where we end The Rabbit Hunt with an unseen member munching on one.

I have to admit, the cooked rabbit does look good.

There is more press information that The Rabbit Hunt alone does not tell us, information that puts things in greater context and provides a background.

For example, we are told that the location is the Florida Everglades, specifically near Lake Okeechobee.  We're told that the main hunter is seventeen-year-old Chris, and that this is a tradition that dates back to the 1900s.  We're also told that this hunt is a 'rite of passage' for the young men.



All that came from the press information to The Rabbit Hunt.  None of that information came from the film itself.

As such, even with the brief running time of 12-13 minutes, someone going into The Rabbit Hunt would not have any of this background to which to follow the film.  Instead, he or she would see a family going out into the sugarcane fields and chase rabbits to death.  For those who find the actual killing of animals distressing, The Rabbit Hunt might prove upsetting.  In a case of mixing metaphors, it does not hide how the sausage is made.

We see them beat the rabbits in the head and the body.  We see them gut the animals before heading home.  We see them hang the rabbits to dry on a clothesline and see them skinned.  We see them cooked and prepared.

As a side note, one wonders about about any diseases the rabbits may have, though the cooking process looks very thorough.  This family is very familiar with how to prepare rabbit meat...wonder about rabbit stew.


Any vegetarian/vegan might be horrified at this, but The Rabbit Hunt is not gratuitous.  This is how rabbits are hunted, and those who hunt the rabbits do hunt them for food, not sport.  It is hunting in the purest sense: for necessity versus pleasure.  As someone who loves lamp chops, I can't place myself on a high horse about how this family eats rabbits.

This is reality, and those who should know where meat comes from should not be repulsed when shown when it is shown at its most basic level.

Given that this family sells rabbit meat, and that others partake of it, I figure this is a local delicacy in the Florida Everglades.  Everything else surrounding The Rabbit Hunt itself is a bit of a mystery, and I think this is where Bresnan could have maybe put in some title cards putting things in context.  Whether he thought background information was necessary or not I cannot say.

The Rabbit Hunt is an interesting short film on the ingenuity of people and on how something as simple as a rabbit hunt can be almost a bonding experience, and one that provides food and finance.  It leaves some questions but on the whole it works well as a look into a world most know nothing about.


Bugs better watch out if he takes another wrong turn in Albuquerque...

DECISION: B-

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Class By Itself. Some Ideas That Might Have Improved 'Class'



Class did not have to meet its untimely death.

Having seen all eight episodes, I can genuinely see a germ of an idea that would have allowed for this Doctor Who spin-off to have lasted longer than it did.  There were various reasons why Class flopped, main one being low ratings.  However, why did it get low ratings?  Why did it lose so many viewers even with Doctor Who being its lead-in show on BBC America?

I've read that part of the cause of Class' collapse was scheduling.  This is probably close to the truth: if you put a show on at a time few people, let alone the target audience, is likely to watch, it might cause problems.  However, the same people who say that Class fell because of low ratings are the same ones who tell me that Doctor Who's declining ratings don't mean the show is losing fans.

What about online?  What about on demand?  What about DVR?, they all say.

I heard that a lot from Doctor Who fans whenever I pointed out that ratings were falling, which to me indicated trouble for a show.  They kept telling me with all those methods of viewing, the show was doing 'better than ever', maybe even with higher ratings.  Given that, why then don't they use the same reasoning with Class?

I've read that part of the cause of Class' collapse was lack of publicity tying it in to the Doctor Who universe (the so-called Whoniverse) or its connection to writer Patrick Ness.  I reject those assertions.  While the advertising for Class didn't feature "from the mind of Patrick Ness" (which frankly would have gone over my head since I'd never heard of Patrick Ness until Class), BBC America promoted it and its Doctor Who-connections heavily.

It made its Doctor Who cred patently obvious by having Doctor Who lead into Class.  The then-Doctor Peter Capaldi appeared in its premiere, tying Class firmly in the Doctor Who-universe.  It even advised Doctor Who viewers that if they wanted to watch clips from upcoming episodes, to stay tuned to Class.  Yet even all that was not enough to keep Doctor Who viewers tuned in to this YA spin-off.

Interesting that Doctor Who's two other spin-offs, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, did find audiences in their targeted range (adults for the very adult-oriented Torchwood, children for the kid-friendly Sarah Jane Adventures).  Young adults, it seemed, got screwed with Class (and no, that wasn't a Charlie/Matteusz joke.  What would you call their coupling?  Chatteusz? Mattlie? A PC stunt?).


I think there were other reasons why Class flopped hard.  An agenda-driven storyline, uninteresting characters, bad acting with one exception (which makes one wonder why the show opted not to focus on its best quality: Kathrine Kelly's Miss Quill), and a 'monster of the week' storytelling all contributed to its downfall.

My question isn't 'why did Class flop in general and with its targeted audience in particular?' (as I've already covered that) but 'what perhaps could have saved it?'

Now that we've wrapped up Class Series Only, I would like to offer up some suggestions as to how Class could have worked better and had a longer shelf life.



1.) Drop the 'Rhodian Prince'/Last of Their Kind' bit.

First, let's put a moratorium on the 'last of their kind' business.  Both Greg Austin's Charlie (an alien prince disguised as a human) and Kelly Miss Quill (his slave/guard) both told us they were 'the last of their kind'.

Why is it that so many science-fiction writers go for this trope?  Doctor Who 2.0 is notorious for this trope. The Doctor was 'the last of his kind'...until he wasn't.  In Dalek, the title creature was 'the last of his kind'...until he wasn't.  In Aliens of London/World War III, the Slitheen were 'the last of their kind'. On and on and on.  It gets tiresome after a while, extremely cliched.  I get the reasoning behind it: being 'the last of their kind' is meant to build sympathy for these lost beings and maybe urgency about their survival.  However, putting this detail in makes Class unoriginal.  It might have been better to simply say they are exiles or just in danger or lost, letting the mystery behind it build over the episodes.

Now, let's move on to the 'Prince' business, which I'd argue is also cliched.

When Sydney Newman was overseeing the creation of Doctor Who, one of his suggestions involved the character of Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter. Susan was first conceived as an alien Princess on the run, and I think Newman thought that was a hackneyed idea.  One of his directives was to 'drop the Princess angle' for the character of Susan.  Class could and should have done the same.

By making Charlie a 'Prince' and Heir to the Throne of Rhodia, Class began tying itself into strange and unnecessary problems.  First, no matter how hard he tries, Charlie will never really be 'one of us' (even if his sexual desires are the same as 5% of the overall population).  As a 'prince', he is already by default different from us.  He is automatically distant, removed, in another world altogether.  Charlie has a 'duty', a 'mission', one that is so alien from all the viewers that it almost immediately removes us from his experiences.

When people think 'prince', they think 'commanding' and 'wealthy', and few of us can command others or have vast resources at our command.  We also don't have a target on our back, and no good political assassin wouldn't want a crack at a member of a Royal House.  A 'prince' also leads to an idea that he is a leader, and while Charlie is the tentative lead in Class, there isn't much in his character that makes him a leader, or even that interesting a character to follow.  In Episode Two, another character, April, asks him to essentially lead.  "You're the Prince," she states.  If he did lead them, the fact they had no plan shows him to be a poor leader.



By having Bonnie Prince Charlie as a member of a monarchy, we also have the question of succession popping up.  I'll grant that perhaps I'm the only one overthinking this, but it is my want.

Charlie is the Prince of Rhodia and Heir to the Throne.  An heir must produce a successor if his family's reign is to continue, which it must since all royal houses believe their rule is beneficial to their people.  Assuming that Rhodians reproduce in the same way Tellurians reproduce, Charlie is stuck with some pretty unenviable choices.

He will have the unfortunate task of having to have sex with a female Rhodian to have an heir of his own to keep Rhodia in its Golden Age, or he will have to renounce the throne to pursue his own pleasures: either Richard I or Edward VIII.  He could have a male mistress, but he will still have to marry and produce an heir.

Here is where so many appear to trip up on the idea of marriage.  Marriage was not created for 'love'.  It was created to legally recognize children who could inherit their parents' inheritance whatever that inheritance was.  Children born outside a legal marriage could get an inheritance, but it would be difficult to prove because there is no legal framework to verify that they are indeed related to their parents.

This is probably why the idea of same-sex marriage was inconceivable in any civilization until this century (no pun intended).  No same-sex couple will ever be able to have children biologically with each other.  Even transgender couples will still require semen (something only cisgender men can produce) and ovaries (something only cisgender women possess) to bring life.

Rhodia needs a secure line of succession. Putting aside the Shadow Kin's interference in Rhodia, if Bonnie Prince Charlie dies without a legitimate heir and there is no one else the Crown of Rhodia can be passed onto (no Prince Bertie to Prince Edward), the planet could descend into chaos and war.  He would therefore need to do the Rhodian version of marriage and reproduce to ensure both legitimacy and continuity.  That would require a Rhodian female, so whatever his own sexual desires be, he is metaphorically screwed.

Now, let's figure that perhaps same-sex relationships are nothing new or different in Rhodia in terms of reproduction.  If this is the case, Charlie's sexuality would therefore be 'normal' on Rhodia, negating the intended purpose of his romance with Matteusz: to show that a same-sex romance/sex isn't 'abnormal'. 

I get the whole point of making Bonnie Prince Charlie gay: to have 'representation' in a leading character.  By making the character alien, he would come in unaware of any prejudice against same-sex sex and show that 'love is love'.  All good, but if he ever were to retake the Rhodian throne, Matteusz could never be Queen.

Something to think about.


2.) Make Quill Less Antagonistic...Maybe Even Human

Even Class' harshest critics say Katherine Kelly was the best aspect of it.  She was acerbic, unpleasant, rude, and gleefully so.  So why therefore am I suggesting we alter her character?

We've established that Quill does not want to be there, and she certainly doesn't want to be Charlie's slave, even if Bonnie Prince Charlie does not see it that way.  However, let's play with the reason she is there in the first place.

What if she were more Alfred Pennyworth than Madame LeFarge, someone who is bound to Charlie willingly?  I know the idea of this antagonistic relationship was to install drama, but given she was in little to no position to do anything about it, I don't think it ever fully worked.  With the removal of the device that bound her to Charlie, what then?

This is made clear when the opportunity to free herself from her bondage presents itself.  If Class had continued past Series Only, what motive would Quill have had to stick around, especially since the Quill devour the mother, and she was pregnant? Ness would either have had to rewrite what he established or create another reason for Quill to continue working with Bonnie Prince Charlie, whom she loathes with good reason.

It might have worked better to have started out with Miss Quill being one of two things: human or a more sympathetic alien.  If she were human, she would be more open to the idea of being a mentor or protector to our young'uns, but that might also slowly shift the emphasis to her versus our teen-centric cast, which Class did not want to do.

OK, let's make her still alien, maybe even an antagonistic Quill to Charlie's Rhodian.  However, she could have been less Warrior Queen and more reluctant warrior or worse, someone who ended up betraying her people for reasons unknown.  Granted, not the best of ideas, but somehow, once she got her free will back, what was Class seriously going to do with her?

It's a pity we had to rush through all that we did when maybe having an episode that established the Quill/Charlie relationship could have set things up better than the rushed manner.  We could have had fans take sides on whether Quill or Charlie was right.  The way Class set it up, there's no way of truly knowing (though given how Charlie is, I'm firmly #TeamQuill).



3.) Have Ram be Charlie's Closeted Lover

It seems clear that Ness and the BBC were dead-set on having 'representation', particularly when it comes to making the lead character of Charlie gay.  Fine, let's try and work with that.  As I've already stated, perhaps having Charlie be our representative might not have been the best choice due to the question of succession.  Later, I'll touch on how Charlie being gay seemed more like pandering than any actual stab at true representation, but for now, let's see how making a slight change could have given better stories that might have actually resonated with the target audience.

Class wanted us to look at Charlie's sexual orientation through alien eyes.  Charlie, being not of this world and thus, not bound by human ideas of sexuality, would find nothing objectionable about being sexually same-sex oriented.  He genuinely wouldn't understand the concept of not being with the one he loved, and that it was immaterial whether it was a woman or a man.  Class' message was simple: Love Is Love, which is a good message but one the show bungled for reasons I'll touch on later and that I've touched on in my last Class-related post.

I've already made a lengthy case as to why it would matter once he was on the Rhodian throne, but let's forget that for now.

If you must have a gay romance, why not go for something not strictly original but something that might provide actual drama and character development?

Why not have Ram be Charlie's lover?




We have the makings of something that still exists: closeted gay men.  In the world of Class and Doctor Who, everyone who is gay is out and loud (very loud).  In the world I live in, many gays are still closeted, either by fear or by choice.  Certain gays I know don't want others to know for their own reasons.  Others genuinely think their private lives are exactly that and while not hiding their sexuality don't make it a central point of their lives.

Making Ram into Charlie's lover can lead us into many interesting avenues.  Here is this jock, one who loves football/soccer, one who has a girlfriend, and who is Sikh.  Yet, let's say that while he loves soccer, he also knows that he is uncomfortable whenever his mates talk about girls.  Ram goes along with it, but in his heart he knows he prefers looking at men, has erotic dreams of men, and even fantasizes about marrying a man (a dream sequence where he and Charlie are in bed, for example, could startle him, as Ram begins to acknowledge to himself that he is not straight).

Charlie, as the out gay student, would bring an emotional conflict to him.  On one hand, he is envious of Charlie and his ability to be so free.  On the other, he yearns to have someone like himself, if not to be sexually intimate with at least to talk about things he can't express to his teammates.

I think it would be a fascinating journey for Ram to have taken.  Why should we limit gay portrayals on television to just being about sex or love?  A gay Ram would serve to create a true character arc: his struggle to reconcile his desires with his own worldview.  Ram could be same-sex oriented and still love football/soccer for itself, not for desires towards the players.  As a Sikh, he may struggle with faith and carnal desires.

Imagine if he went on dates because he is trying to convince himself he is straight or can make himself straight or is still struggling with his desires.  He might even be bisexual, who is to say?  Imagine that he struggles with his sexuality in the various episodes: maybe even sleeps with April in an effort to prove to himself that he is heterosexual but finding no pleasure in it.  Imagine that in Detained, his confession is that he is in love with Charlie.  He outs himself unwillingly and unwittingly, and now has to face the ramifications of that (no pun intended).

In a certain way, the Matteusz/Charlie affair is stereotypical.  Matty has no real purpose outside of being Charlie's sexmate, but a Ram/Charlie affair is something we haven't seen much of: that between a closeted man and an openly gay man.   Ram's character arc if he had been Charlie's partner could have taken several routes.  He could have slowly come to terms with his desires and come out.  He could have pursued a sexual relationship and kept himself closeted.  He could have avoided sex with Charlie and just found a kindred soul, one whom he could unburden himself.  He even could have chosen to deny his desires for whatever reason.

A Ram/Charlie relationship need not eventually turn physical.  It could be strictly emotional.  However, it could give something to both Charlie and Ram that they desperately needed: character development.  Class could have done wonders with the notion of 'coming out'.  Again, Class and Doctor Who exist in a universe where homosexuality is almost routine.  That's not the world that exists, and Class does a disservice to all those who for whatever reason have/choose to remain closeted.

The worst thing that happened to Matteusz was getting thrown out of his house, which ended up being good because it got him into Charlie's bed.  The worst thing that can happen to someone else is getting killed.


4.) Have Matteusz Be a Sympathetic Homophobe

It would at least give him something to do other than serve as Charlie's mistress/boy toy.

When I say 'sympathetic homophobe', I'm not suggesting or implying that homophobia is good.  When I say 'sympathetic homophobe', I am saying that it would have been interesting to have a character who does not like Charlie because he is same-sex attracted but who is also not a stock villain.

As a side note, given Rhodian biology, it's unclear whether Bonnie Prince Charlie is an outlier among his people or his sexual orientation is more predominant.

If Matteusz's sole characteristic in this scenario was that he was homophobic: bullying Charlie, making remarks, he would have been just as useless a character that way as he was in Class, where his whole purpose was to be Charlie's top.  Let's play with my idea a bit.

Let's say Charlie is openly gay.  Let's say Ram struggles with his own sexual desires and they eventually have a tryst.  We might even have Ram not join Matteusz's behavior but not say anything about it.  Let's now have Charlie decide to confront Matteusz about his behavior.  He goes to his home and finds Matteusz caring for his mother/father/grandmother/sister-what have you.  Let's say that Charlie finds that Matteusz, his bully, has issues of his own: maybe his Polish parents bully him too, maybe he protects his sister from bullies, maybe he cares for injured birds, maybe his sister is gay and he accepts that but takes out his own anger or confusion about that with Charlie.

What I'm driving at is that Class could have not only made better use of Matteusz, but also shown that a homophobe is not a monster with no feeling.  There is a marked difference between someone who is evil and someone who is misguided.  Matteusz, rather than being Charlie's whore, could have been something of a human antagonist, but one who was much more complicated than just a 'bully'.

I find that sometimes people are not evil, merely wrong.  As such, it would open up Class to tackle real teen issues: bullying, but also give the bully a touch of humanity.  People, I have found, are more than their faults or their virtues.



5.) Develop the Mystery of Charlie Over Time

I'm not a Harry Potter fan.  Potheads is what they're called, right?  One thing that I did think worked somewhat with Jo's work was with regards to Harry's introduction to the world of witchcraft and wizardry.  Granted, we were essentially told straight off the bat 'You're a wizard, Harry' when Dumbledore, Hagrid and McGonnagal dropped him off at his Muggle relatives doorstep, but Harry himself didn't know of his true identity from the start.  He's allowed to discover this through a series of strange events.  WE know he's a wizard, but he doesn't.

With Charlie, we know everything we need to know about him quickly: he's an alien who doesn't understand human behavior (unless it revolves around gay sex, and then he understands it better than anyone on GayTube), he's a Prince, and he's gay.  That's pretty much it for Charlie.  He doesn't have much of a personality.

Why don't we instead make Charlie a bit of a mystery to others, but a mystery that takes longer to solve?  If you were really daring, maybe make it a mystery to Charlie himself.

We've already dropped that 'prince' bit, which I always found problematic at the minimum.  Maybe he didn't know he was alien.  Maybe he did know, but is working hard to keep that a secret.  Maybe the others are trying to find out who this 'Charlie Smith' is and either discover Charlie's secret or are taken into his confidence.

How is it he does not know what 'folk dancing' is but can handle an extraterrestrial weapon with the greatest of ease?  Class could have taken a page from the very first Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child.  They pretty much have the same premise: a student at Coal Hill who has great abilities in certain subjects but is ignorant of basic human knowledge (one particularly chilling moment, the title character of Susan reads a history of the French Revolution and states how something there isn't true).  The mystery of who Susan was built up over time.  Class could have done the same, maybe even make the revelation the series/season finale.

Class, however, rushed through everything, perhaps matching Millennials' short attention span. Another wasted opportunity.




6.) Drop the Agenda

Perhaps I find the idea of 'representation' on television odd because I know some gay people.  Yes, being homosexual is part of who they are.  It, however, isn't all that they are.  I know gay men who are passionate about football and it has nothing to do with sexual desires for Tom Brady.  These men care more about player's overall statistics than their vital statistics.  Class, however, lives in that alternate universe: not only are gay people able to be open about it without anyone batting an eye, but the gay people in Class have no defining characteristics apart from being gay.

Class suffered greatly from the idea of 'representation', no matter how well-intentioned.  The show applauded itself for making its lead character homosexual, and I've already pointed out some things that were wrong with this idea.  Now let's look at another aspect about 'representation'.

According to GLAAD, in 2016 4.8% of characters on network television were LGBT.  The self-identifying LGBT population in the U.S. is 3.5% as of 2011.  In short, there is technically speaking, an over-representation of the gay community on television versus the overall population.  Class may have been congratulated for having a gay teen leading character, but despite the praises it was receiving, it was not in the vanguard.



It IS hard not seeing an agenda when the whole 'gay romance in space' story was already covered on Doctor Who with the Doctor's Companion Bill Potts, the first openly gay Companion as were (endlessly) told.  Bill mentioned or referenced her lesbianism in at least 5 out of the 12 episodes of her run.  A case of she doth protest too much?

It had gone from a positive step to a running joke: where could Bill drop the hints that she was a lesbian?  Curiously though, Bill never mentioned it to her foster mother.  We got that she was gay, and I imagine the Doctor Who production team congratulated itself (as did Class) for giving gay audiences someone to 'identify' with.

However, Class and Doctor Who got carried away with this (and let's not get started on the same-sex bestiality of Madam Vastra & Jenny Flint).  Bill's lesbianism came up in almost half of her stories, and Class rarely failed to show how intimate Matteusz and Charlie were.  It became almost obsessive this constant referencing, as if the audience might be in danger of forgetting that they had gay characters.

It would be nice to get a gay perspective on this, and while I can only guess I imagine some gay Doctor Who or Class fans probably might have found the whole thing irritating rather than empowering.

I was never been convinced that Matteusz was a real person.  Instead, I think his character served one purpose: to be Charlie's lover.  As I've pointed out, every scene that Matteusz had involved Charlie: it was either with Charlie or with Charlie in it.  Only once can I remember a scene in Class where Matteusz spoke alone to someone else.  That was when Matteusz talked to Miss Quill...asking if Charlie was there.

I'm not convinced that ignoring the real issues same-sex couples face is 'progressive' or rational.  Despite the advancements the LGBTQIANBGN community has made there is still homophobia, ranging from words to physical violence.  Class wants to make that world nonexistent, that everyone is cool with Charlie & Matteusz.  That would be a nice world, but it's not the world we live in.

Where's Matteusz? Probably still in bed,
waiting for Charlie to turn him on
(in more ways than one).
If that was the goal of Class, to be a demonstration of how far the world has come, rather than being a science-fiction show with teen drama elements, it's no wonder it flopped.  Who wants to be lectured?

Ultimately, Class needed to stand on its own, and it didn't.

It had an incredible inability to balance "alien invasion or teen angst", it gave viewers no reason to keep following these characters who were shockingly thin save for Katherine Kelly's Miss Quill, and if tried to fit in so much within a brief running time.  Perhaps if things had developed more slowly (that episode where Ram and April discover each other versus Class' notion of  having them leaping into bed only to say there can't be love because they've known each other only a month).  Perhaps if greater care were taken with the characters and situations.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...

Now, Class is finished, and apart from its few fans, won't be missed.  Class was a massive misfire, and perhaps one of Doctor Who's biggest mistakes; then again, I hadn't counted on this...