Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Things I've Learned From the Internet, Bookmark & Blind Side Edition

It's been a crazy couple of days- my sister was in town, we hung out with my aunt, a great deal of wine was consumed and I started a new project about a Doomed Arctic Expedition, but, more importantly, I finally saw The Blind Side!

No joke, I was prepared to not like it, since it is a clear-cut manipulative tearjerker that doesn't even try to hide the formula and, dammit, I'm an INTELLECTUAL. But no! Sandra Bullock was adorable, as usual, and though her performance wasn't necessarily Oscar-worthy, who actually deserves their Oscar anymore? Jennifer Connelly beat out Helen Mirren the year she won for A Beautiful Mind, to which I say if you did not cry during Helen Mirren's scene at the end in Gosford Park you have no heart. For cripes sake, Crash won Best Picture. (Come to think of it, wasn't Sandra Bullock in that, too? Oh well.)

Anyway, I thought it was sweet, and the guy who played Michael was adorable, and the kid who played the younger brother was just-this-side of annoying. I found it impossible to believe that Tim McGraw (Mr. Sandra Bullock) would be that easygoing about bringing some random-ass person into their house on a semi-permanent basis, no matter how deserving, but hey! it happened In Real Life, so clearly he didn't mind that much! The nicest touch was all the family photos at the end over the credit sequence. All in all, my Heart Was Warmed.

There's not really a lot coming out this week that I'm interested in seeing, although I haven't seen Toy Story 3 yet. I think I'm avoiding it because I know I'm going to cry my face off. If you don't believe me, please come to my house sometime when we are all watching Steel Magnolias. We are giant cliches of Southern ladies. Even my dad gets in on the weepy action (although I think the last time he cried during a movie was when we caught a rerun of Deep Impact a few years back. I AM CRYING THINKING ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW.)

Anyway, linkage:

  • Speaking of crying, if you don't weep while reading this story of two DC-area men who got married after being together for sixty-two years then there is something wrong with you.
  • Celebs: they are just like you, pretending to read smart books. Is there some kind of Hollywood conspiracy against "genre" fiction? Why isn't there a mystery novel ANYWHERE ON THESE LISTS? Does anyone actually sit around and read Tolstoy and Graham Greene exclusively? Don't any of these people just want a potboiler in their lives occasionally?
  • In other News About Reading, this great bookstore my family and I visited in Toronto called This Ain't Rosedale Library might be closing. Visit them & throw them some support, if you can. When we were there I picked up a copy of Nicola Barker's whackadoo, intricate novel Darkmans and a copy of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's The Fire Engine That Disappeared, an awesome novel if you are into sad Swedish policemen investigating crimes in places where it is cold and people have casual and detached attitudes towards sex. (Which I am.)
  • Gawker asked if nepotism should always annoy us, and I said yes, yes it should, but then I calmed down when The Awl pointed out exactly how many books the nepotist (nepotee?) had sold, but then my rage came back when I remembered that this kid got a job at SNL ten minutes after graduating.
That's all for now. And since my friend Meg has been torturing me with stories of dead baby pelicans in the Gulf all morning (Seriously, BP, light a controlled burn and then throw yourself into it) here is a picture of a non-oily creature:

Kitteh! via cuteoverload

Monday, June 28, 2010

Did I ever tell you that I stole it?

So I'm done with the new season of Doctor Who, having watched four episodes last night one after the other like some kind of crazy person / person with no life. I am hard pressed to think of an episode that turned me off this season- even kind of lame episodes like Vampires of Venice were better than what felt like the emo sobfest of Tennant's first season, after which I stopped watching.

Anyway, the two-part finale was absolute genius, and I think it would be impossible for me to love Matt Smith more. When he was initially cast I was suspicious of his youth (he's 27, guys! He's a CHILD!) but he has this look about him- I know, I'm going to say it, prepare yourselves- he looks like an alien. His face is wierdly ageless, with its almost complete lack of eyebrows and that ridiculous shock of hair swooping down over his brow. And he's a great actor. I think everything that I loved about Tennant's Ten was just Tennant- charm and ebullience and barely-suppressed rage. In Amy's Choice you can see every one of the Dream Lord's remarks hit home on Smith's expressive face.

"Friends. Is that your word for the people you acquire?"

It is hot as balls in my apartment right now, and since I stayed up so late last night, I think I'm going to hie my hiney to bed before I get silly.

Look at his faaaaaaaaace he's an alien!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What I Watched Last Night: Two-Day Catch Up Top Chef Edition

The night before last- Doctor Who Season 5

My good friend Mallory had been berating me for weeks- months even- about how I was a bad fan because I hadn't watched any of the new Doctor Who episodes except for that one with Tony Curran as Vincent Van Gogh, because, did I mention that I love Underworld: Evolution? I quit watching new Who about three-quarters of the way through the first Tennant season. I don't quite remember why I stopped. Maybe my lingering adoration of Christopher Eccleston's Nine and his enormous ears was getting in the way. Tennant's first season seemed unusually full of maudlin nonsense, and so, weeks before Rose even got dumped in that alternate dimension I had already quit. I realize that quitting that early means I missed some of the best stuff, like "Blink" and the entirety of Donna (except for that one episode, you know, that one. The wedding one.)

But now, I'm back, and I'm never leaving. Matt Smith's Eleven is a revelation, all coltish and manic trickster energy, and in the six episodes I've watched he still seems to be learning how to coordinate his limbs. Amy Pond is a great companion, with a background and a personality and a complete, refreshing lack of any father issues (so far. I'm only up through "Flesh and Stone.")

I'm sure there are other places on the internet that discuss new Who in a much more intelligent way, but I love, love, love the way the Moffat era is shaping up. Even the requisite and really uneccessary Dalek episode was pretty great, with the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill, and the hilarious experience of hearing a Dalek ask the Doctor if he would like some tea.

Ultimately, I think Doctor Who will always be about the perils of non-action in the face of evil or wrong. Intervening in the lives of others can bring pain and suffering (as it does time and time again for the Doctor, no matter which face he's wearing at the time) but the worst kind of suffering is that which is brought about not by making the wrong choices, but by making no choice at all. When the Doctor tells Amy and Vincent Van Gogh not, under any circumstances, to follow him, Vincent turns to Amy:
"You're going to follow him, aren't you?"
"Of course."
"I love you."
Of course Amy is going to follow him, because hanging back is the worst option to take, in the Who or the real world. If something happens to the Doctor while she hangs back she will bear the responsibility for his injury (or death! it can happen!) Amy is going to follow the Doctor because the Doctor always goes in. I think that's the choice that the show asks us to make, time and time again.*

Other things I've loved so far:
"We have no need for comfy chairs, sir."
"Yogurt is horrible. It's stuff with bits in."
"Let's get you sorted!" "That's what I've been trying to tell you!"
Last Night- Dance Your Ass Off, Design Star, Next Food Network Star, True Beauty, Top Chef

In addition to terrible movies and good science fiction shows I also love reality TV. Specifically, I love competition shows and shows about hoarders. Since I don't have cable I usually get together once a week with my awesome aunt who also lives in the city and we watch the shows we both like. My favorite of last night's block is clearly Top Chef, which last night had what might be the best Quickfire challenge I've ever seen: the chefs had to cook a sandwich in pairs, wearing a two-headed apron, only using one hand each. Literally one person had to be the right hand and one person had to be the left. Either someone at Bravo is a massive Evelyn Evelyn fan or they just had a stroke of genius. It forced the cheftestants to work together in a way that they literally never have before. The one guy's fear that his partner would cut off his hand: hilarious.

Less amusing was a strain that occurred in two shows last night, Top Chef and Design Star: the idea that if a contestant didn't make their ideas heard they were "allowing" themselves to be bullied. I think that kind of misses the point of bullying- the point of bullying is to win. Sometimes, standing up to the person who is asserting their opinion does not result in that person taking your ideas into account. The people who sign up for reality shows are not rational actors, and someone like Crazy Nina is not going to listen to sweet, porcelain Emily because she was clearly cast as the crazy bossy contestant, and that is her role. The same thing happened in Top Chef when Kenny knew they didn’t have enough vegetables in their school lunch but “allowed” Angelo and his partner (whose name I forget- Tracey? She talked adorably about raising her partner’s kid) to ride roughshod over his suggestions. Since Angelo & Tracey (?) had immunity, the assumption on the part of the judges is that Kenny needed to assert himself and make himself heard more on the topic. This mentality doesn’t take into account the realities of the competition reality-show dynamic, which is that in any situation where contestants have to work together, if someone has immunity & a personality like Angelo’s, that person will end up being the leader by default and won’t really be into taking ideas from someone who doesn’t also have immunity.

I hope that made sense. At any rate, on Top Chef the lady who was a self-taught caterer got sent home for her too-starchy, two-pound-of-sugar pudding, and Texas Tera got sent home on Design Star for painting a room yellow. My fervent hope is that next week on Food Network Star horrible douche Paul gets sent home for being a terrible, un-charismatic jerk. And like the adorably outsized (personality-wise and otherwise) dancetestants on Dance Your Ass Off, my thoughts on this particular motivational weight loss program will have to wait for another day.

*And yes, I realize I'm doing analysis on a show about an alien who travels through time in a police box picking up women to hang out with. I KNOW THIS.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Green Hornet Trailer

I really like that the awesome Jay Chou is front and center with Seth Rogen in this trailer and not some afterthought (like, here's my generic Asian driver!) I have very high hopes for this movie. Also, Seth Rogen looks good. January!

What I Watched Last Night

Needing a little emotional pick-me-up last night I turned to that happiest of six-hour miniseries, the 1996 BBC Pride and Prejudice. Others will tell you that the Kiera Knightley version was just, like, so great, but those people are wrong. Colin Firth is the O-G Darcy, and if anyone wants to say that Kiera Collarbones is a better Elizabeth than Jennifer Ehle, well, you should just punch that person in the face.
It's really at the point now where I hardly watch the show anymore. I listen to it in the background and dig the music and then somehow, like magic, I know when my favorite scenes are going to come on- when Elizabeth is going to rescue Georgiana Darcy at the piano, when Darcy is going to lay the epic bitchslap down on Caroline Bingley, when Lady Catherine De Bourgh is going to talk about the barouche box like it's a vehicle sent straight from Jesus for the conveyance of poor relations. While reading or checking my tumblr obsessively for someone to please post the G-D Green Hornet trailer already (sidebar: it looks awesome) something happens and I somehow know from hundreds of viewings that it is Time To Look Up, and I do, and it's magical.

This is not to say that I don't recognize that re-watching (almost) all of a six hour miniseries adaptation of a piece of literature which I have also read hundreds of time isn't a colossal waste of time. I could be doing innumerable other things with my evening- cleaning my apartment, working on one or more of the 23402834 writing projects I have going on right now, thinking up a solution to the problems in the Middle East or finding a way to fix the oil spill in the Gulf. But since last night I felt down I decided to turn to my old pals the Bennetts. I decided to watch Elizabeth and Darcy go from hate to grudging respect to "Crap, now that I love this person my sister has gone and eloped Dang." I decided to say, like Mary, that I take little pleasure in a ball. I decided to watch Mr. Bennett win the award for Father Who You Thought Was Only Benignly Neglecting His Children, Only It Turns Out He Was Actually Being A Terrible Parent Cause Lydia Turned Out To Be A Flighty Skank.

One of the reasons it's so easy to watch P&P in one massive glut is that the DVD has divided it into two parts of three hours each- back in The Day, if one wanted to watch it, one had to get up every hour to change the VHS. Now one just pops the DVD in and three hours later Mr. Darcy is getting his ass handed to him. Colin Firth is brilliant in this scene and it's here where contrast between this version and the feature film is really pronounced. The subtle winces he makes as Elizabeth tells him just how much she dislikes him are so much more evocative and true to this buttoned-up character than Matthew MacFayden's emo twitching. In the new movie, I kept expecting MacFayden's Darcy to run off to the woods and write poetry and cry. Firth's Darcy is controlled to the point of icy coldness to just about everyone. It's not until Elizabeth's and Mr & Mrs Gardner's visit to Pemberley that he comes out of his shell. Contrast this to Darcy's goopy proposal in the rain on the porch of a neoclassical temple in the new version. I'm sorry, did I stumble into a Stephanie Laurens novel, or is this one of the classic pieces of English literature?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Afternoon linkage

It's 5pm and my work brain has shut down for the day, so here are some Interesting Things from the Internet:

  • Sady Doyle, my new personal hero, does two fabulous and hilarious takedowns of the new movie version of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. That first one there features Amanda Hess of the Sexist! (Quote: Behold the Goofy Hat of the Ubermensch.) Also, check out Tigerbeatdown contributor Garland Grey's epic screed against Sex and the City 2.
  • I wrote about Jonah Hex, as did many Other People. Including this dude, who really sincerely loved Jonah Hex, and hated Toy Story 3. To quote his review: "Like Orpheus in the underworld, Jonah suffers knowledge of anguished life and the threat of mortality. And like the hero of Crank, Jonah fights to stay alive." Yes, those are real published words! Thanks, New York Press!
  • The Telegraph compiled a list of Britain's best 20 novelists under 40, and unlike the New Yorker list, actually includes genre writers. Win: Genre writers, Zadie Smith. Fail: their flippant dismissal of gender imbalance ("we frankly failed, if it matters, to achieve a gender balance – 13 out of the 20 are men"- emphasis mine. Yes, it matters, thanks)
  • I learned that more books than are necessary contain the phrase "Somewhere, a dog barked."
Anyway, it's the end of the day (Sweet Jesus! Hooray!) and I should get some stuff done before heading home and hanging out on the internet some more. What are you reading, nonexistent readers?

I come to bury Jonah Hex, not to praise it.

In keeping with my innate ability to at least attempt enjoy the heck out of almost any piece of cultural garbage, this weekend I hied myself down to the Battery Park cinema and paid $13* to see Jonah Hex. Yes, that Jonah Hex, the one the AV Club gave an "F" to and called "a film... so stitched together, it’s a wonder it doesn’t rip apart in the projector." The one currently batting at 14% on rottentomatoes.com. The one that only made $5.1 million on its opening weekend. To put that last number in perspective, Toy Story 3 made $41 million on its opening night.

A rational person might ask themselves "Why?" when faced with the sight of an actual person who paid actual money to see Jonah Hex and didn't then sneak into another film (like Toy Story 3). This is a valid question. After all, what kind of person would willingly pay to see a pseudo-gothic Western based on a long-running comic book directed by the guy who helmed the animated Horton Hears a Who and written by the goons who wrote Crank? The answer is: this person, right here, who owns all three Underworld movies on DVD.

I went to go see Jonah Hex for the following reasons:

1. Michael Fassbender
2. Josh Brolin
3. Daniels from The Wire
4. an un-credited Jeffrey Dean Morgan
5. Will Arnett
6. Aidan F-ing Quinn
7. Oscar Nominee Michael Shannon (No, really)

Look at that cast. Those are some GQMFs right there. That is a gigantic aggregation of on-screen talent and I didn't even list John Malkovich**. I thought, surely this group of people, assembled together in one project, will produce a film that is at least moderately worth watching. These terrible reviews can't all be correct.

Jonah Hex tried even my ability to find entertainment in a shitty movie.*** From lopsided-flashback beginning to abrupt and unintentionally-humorous end, Jonah Hex is a movie that has no idea what it wants to be when it grows up. All the things that looked awesome in the previews- horse mounted gatlin guns! Michael Fassbender's wierd maori chin tats! -were bright moments in a gray sea of confusing vengeance metaphors, strange red-tinted fight dream sequences, and a plot that focuses around the theft a superweapon invented by Eli fucking Whitney for the sole purpose of destroying the U.S. It was an apt metaphor for this movie when, towards the movie's climax, when President Aidan F. Quinn is making a speech on the steps of the half-built Capitol building, the crowd in attendance doesn't number more than 500 people. Only 500 fictional CGI people cared about this President's speech enough to show up. (Let's not even go into the historical accuracy of this cinematic depiction of the Centennial- in reality, the big shindig was in Philadelphia, and ten million people went.)

The frustrating thing about this cinematic half-assery was that Jonah Hex did not have to be a terrible movie. Jonah Hex has been running since 1971, and has some great storylines that could have been mined for adaptaion (including, apparently, a jaunt to China, if Wikipedia is to be believed which, I get, doesn't necessarily have to be) Even the origin story of Jonah Hex is pretty cool: Hex's face is disfigured by the Apache tribe that adopted him as a child as punishment for breaking the rules of sacred battle (no joke!). In the film, Hex's face is branded and his family slaughtered as vengeance for the death of Quentin Turnbull's son, Hex's best friend. This version of the origin story makes sense- it gives Jonah a Big Bad to fight against, and provides personal motivation for his journey. But even this version of the story doesn't get the treatment it deserves. As one review pointed out, the moment where Hex decides to mutilate his face even further rather than bear Turnbull's brand is shown in an off-hand moment told in a (fucking) flashback. (If anyone can point me in the direction of the review that made this point, I'd appreciate it.)

Before I wrap up, let me just address the hot elephant in the room: Megan Fox. Now, a lot of people don't like her, because she says ridiculous things in interviews, and is famous for being hot in the Transformers movies, and has an assortment of stupid tattoos. These things are all true. But in a movie where the wittiest banter is between Josh Brolin and a dog, having an actress rise to the occasion of being hot and occasionally shooting guns is actually kind of an accomplishment. Her character, Lilah, is a version of a character from the comic, Tallulah. In the comics, Tallulah is also disfigured and, after hooking up with Hex, becomes a badass bounty hunter herself. How much more interesting would that have been?

All in all, Jonah Hex rose to every poor expectation I had. The actors were completely and utterly wasted on this movie. (As the Pajiba review says, "they assembled a fucking amazing cast and then wasted them like showgirls pre-pretty button pushing at casino buffet salad bars"). DC Comics better think long and hard about their strategy for movie adaptations going forward, because if Jonah Hex is the quality of film they're planning on producing, they might as well set their entire back catalog and all their money on fire.

* Not counting popcorn and soda, for which I had to take out a loan)
** Or Wes Bentley. Or Tom Wopat
*** For perspective, I own and have watched more than once the Doom movie on DVD. In my defense, I got it for free.