Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Imma let you finish, but...

Hopefully, this Kanye West thing will blow over soon.

For those who somehow don't know, he interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at this weekend's MTV Video Music Awards, to take issue with her victory. Yes, this was mind-bogglingly rude, and easily arguable as sexist. He deserved scorn, and he's gotten it. People will never forget this...nor should they.

However, he has now apologized in several forums, including by phone to Taylor Swift. If it won't be forgotten, it should be forgiven.

And I believe that the punishment has now exceeded the crime.

The reason for that is that is that yesterday, broke the news that President Barack Obama had been caught calling West a "jackass" on a hot mic.

For a Black musician with a passion for racial issues, I cannot imagine how painful this would be, coming from the first Black president. It must have been agony. Simply agony. Agony that the President did not intend for West to have.

Obama did not know that he was being recorded, and thought his statements were off the record. He should know by now, though, that with the press, his words are never off the record unless explicitly stated...and maybe not even then. I wish he'd been more circumspect, considering that West has shown real contrition as he's gone on damage control. Obama may have never done anything so breathtakingly boorish, but he knows what it is to stick his foot in his mouth. (Special Olympics, anyone?)

At this point, I feel sorry for everyone involved: Taylor Swift, Beyonce' Knowles, President Obama and Kayne West.

Monday, September 14, 2009

RIp Patrick Swayze

I am very sad to learn of Patrick Swayze's passing, although he had been suffering for some time. He was in many movies I enjoyed, including Dirty Dancing, Point Break, Ghost and To Wong Foo. He also always seemed like a good person and a class act.

I really wanted to post a YouTube video from Dirty Dancing, because he deserves a tribute that moves. But the embedding on all of them seemed to be disabled.

So go. Watch anyway. Listen. Have one last dance.

And please accept this macro instead, from user

The Quotable Paris Hilton

Yesterday, I read online that Paris Hilton will be included in a new book, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

Her quote? "Dress cute everywhere you go, life is too short to blend in."

As much as I don't dig the whole "celebutante" thing, I have to say, I can get on board with this quote.

In fairness, I would say that life is too short to always worry about how you look. The quote, however, is not about consumerism, or wearing the right brand. Nor is it about dressing up to please other people. It's about nonconformity, about chosing something you like and projecting a confident image.

And that's hot.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pon farr of the vanities

This week, I had planned to bring you a review of Wolverine and the new Star Trek. I saw them in a self-made double-feature this weekend. Perhaps it will suffice to say that if you can only see one, see Star Trek. Tonight, though, I've got old Trek on my mind.

Today, I found myself reading about pon farr—in Star Trek canon, the condition that comes upon adult Vulcan males (and bonded females) every seven years. It strips away their logic, making them feel like their blood is boiling, and compels them to either mate or die—unless they're lucky enough be able to to fight or meditate through it. There's even a fan magazine called “Fever”, devoted exclusively to pon farr fanfiction. Of course, my interest in this topic may have something to do with how much I loved the pairing of Spock and Uhura in the latest movie. Just maybe.

At any rate, tonight, I watched “Amok Time”, the episode of the original Trek series which introduced the concept of pon farr. In brief, Spock is stricken by the blood fever and returns to Vulcan to marry his betrothed. During the ceremony, however, she invokes her right to subject him to a challenge...and selects Kirk as her champion, to be fought to the death. Bones saves the day with some medical meddling, and Spock lets his faithless female go with the guy she really wants.

Much of what I found in this episode was unexpected. First, I have to admit that William Shatner was a better actor than I thought he'd been at that at point. He had impressive range and subtlety. It was interesting to see Nimoy play twitchy in his role for once, but Spock's agitation was not as convincing as his embarrassment over it. The next thing was the scene where Kirk's clothing gets torn and suddenly, I'm looking at William Shatner's nipples. Perhaps I haven't seen as much old Trek as I thought, but I kind of thought that nipples in the original series would be like or crying in baseball (there is none); but it was more like the Spanish inquisition (unexpected!)

Most unexpectedly, though, I finally saw the sexual undercurrent that so many fans see between Kirk and Spock! Kirk goes out of his way to save his friend, risking even the wrath of the Federation. Spock reacts more strongly to seeing Kirk okay at the end than he reacted to his betrothed. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, though. That is one of the oldest non-canonical pairings in all of sci-fi fandom. People have been writing stores about Kirk and Spock before there was an internet to share them on. In fact, the phrase “slash”, as it refers to same-sex pairings, was first used to designate stories which were “Kirk/Spock”.

On an related note: Star Trek has not been out a week, and already I'm tired of the “Trekkies don't have sex” meme. Jay Leno said something to that effect last night, and there was a similar implication in an online article about the Vulcan salute. Excuse me, but by my reckoning, sci-fi, fantasy and comic book movies have been mainstream since the first Batman, if not since Star Wars. Watchmen was the first movie this year that anyone gave a damn about. Even our hip, beloved President has seen Star Trek...and no one would accuse him of not getting any (he has proof). Of course, all things in moderation, but for the most part, fandom is cool these days.. I guess some folks missed the memo.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Storywh0re from the vault--Imagine Me and You (2005)

Three things that may break your brain...depending on where you first encountered the actors in question.

  1. Giles of BtVS fame, attempting to fast-dance.

  2. Sarah Connor with a British accent.

  3. Adrian Veidt with short, dark hair.

All of this is found in Imagine Me and You. In this 2005 romantic comedy, Piper Perabo plays Rachel, a young woman who's future and sexuality are called into question. Walking down the aisle on her wedding day, she experiences love at first sight with another woman...Luce, the wedding florist, played by Lena Headey. They hit it off at the reception, and from there, things unfold surprisingly predictably.

I wish I could get more on board with this movie, I really do. I support gay marriage in real life, and better LGBT characters and story lines in popular culture. This film, however, falls back on several existing tropes about homosexuality, and uses more traditional rom-com tropes in ways that failed to win my sympathy.

First of all,
Imagine me and You arguably illustrates how Hollywood is more comfortable depicting lesbians (especially if they're both beautiful) than it is gay men. In fairness, Rachel and her husband do run into two men dallying in the woods at one point...but the men have apparently just met, and this taps into another negative stereotype. On the whole, it is hard to imagine the same movie being made with the husband in Rachel's situation.

Next, there is the issue of infidelity. The romantic comedy battlefield is littered with broken engagements, but in this case, the heroine and her Baxter are already married. Rachel and Luce stop short of the sack while Rachel's still married, because that would become something that the audience couldn't condone Maybe I'm just not enough of a romantic, but it seems unwise to throw away a brand new marriage for a brand new romance, regardless of gender. It would be different if Rachel suddenly realized she had no attraction to men...but that would be an issue even without a third party, and doesn't seem to be the case.

In other words, just because it's a same-sex relationship doesn't mean it's better, in this case. It seems like Rachel could end up alone altogether if things don't work out with Luce. Not only might this movie not have been made with two men, but I doubt it would have been made with a marriage breaking up so that another heterosexual couple could form.

Part of the problem, for me at least, is the Baxter.
Watchmen's Matthew Goode plays Rachel's husband Hector, who has ended up with the unfortunate nickname of Heck. Unlike so many Baxters before him, he isn't inattentive, abusive or irresponsible. We see him trying hard to make their marriage work. Heck isn't even particularly boring. His worst sin is a reluctance to get naked in the woods at night...and even then, it's implied that he and Rachel have had sex outdoors before.

In the end, I realized that Heck is the hero of the movie for me. He finds himself in the untenable position of being an obstacle to the happiness for someone he loves, and Goode makes that realization agonizing to watch. In that position, Heck does the right thing, without resentment and with as much grace as he can manage. Then he goes on to follow his dream.

I really don't mean to discourage anyone from watching Imagine Me and You. Even I have to concede that it must end as it does. The heart must be followed, crises of identity must be addressed...and it is, after all, a rom-com. It also treats its Baxter and secondary characters with a lot more respect than usual for the genre. There are no villians, and everyone gets a happy ending.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

Last summer, viewers of The Dark Knight were treated to one of the slickest and most seductive trailers ever. The music of the Smashing Pumpkins helped to sell Watchmen, adapted from the beloved graphic novel and helmed by 300 director Zac Snyder. By the time Watchmen finally arrived this weekend, it was easily the most anticipated movie so far this year. It posted 2009's strongest opening-weekend take so far (over $56 million), in spite of showings being limited by an almost three-hour running time.

The story takes place in an alternate version of the 1980's. President Richard Nixon is in his fifth term, and masked vigilantes are real, but have been outlawed. A retired superhero—The Comedian—is murdered, and the far less retiring Rorschach proceeds to investigate. He believes that “masks” are being targeted, and struggles to convince his surviving colleagues

I went in not having read the graphic novel. One of my friends who was with me summed it up best: “Whatever I was expecting, that wasn't it.”

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: this movie is bloody. For this reason alone, it's not for everyone. There are broken bones, limbs removed with chainsaws, and multiple people reduced to gory splatters. The camera is unflinching for a lot of this. I have a pretty high threshold for such things, and it was exceeded. Any time I feel like I might as well be watching Sin City, I get kind of pissed off, just on principal.

On the other hand, there is much to enjoy. Rorschach is just a fun character, mostly because he's so ornery and so crazy. Dan Drieberg, whose alter ego is Nite Owl, is irresistably geeky. The very concept of Dr. Manhattan is fascinating. The least well-rounded character is probably Matthew Goode's Ozymandias, and he is still captivating every time he's onscreen.

I should probably not give Watchmen as much of a pass on gender stuff as I do. It fails the Bechdel test. All of the female characters end up in a sexual clinch at some point—including, by implication, a murdered child. There is a brutal almost-rape scene, where the victim fights back but still has to be saved by a man. At the same time, I have to give the movie credit for an unprecedented amount of male nudity (including frontal) in a mainstream blockbuster. I give it credit for showing that sex doesn't always work out, even when both parties want it. I also appreciate the fact that heroine, Laurie Jupiter, moves from one partner to a new one without being considered cheap or traitorous.

The story ends with one character playing the scapegoat a la The Dark Knight...only on a much grander scale. I left the theater asking myself, when did we start insisting that our superhero movies be all deep and stuff? Did Christopher Nolan start it? What happened to lighthearted fun? Remember Batman and Robin? Oh, wait—we all hated that.

It's possible that the public's taste for meaning with its masks will move in cycles, like so many other things. At all times, however, there are movies which capture the spirit of their age. Lately, they seem to have become impossibly timely. We are in the midst of a recession, with record unemployment, sub-prime mortgages defaulting, and no Dr. Manhattan to secure the Afghan border. “What happened to the American Dream?” Nite Owl asks at one point. “It came true,” replies the Comedian. If other movies—most notably Iron Man—were literally or figuratively about the Bush years, then Watchmen is a movie for this moment.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Om nom nom....

So, this week the Oscar Nominations were announced.

As well as I loved No Country for Old Men, I was pleased to see the unlikeable Burn After Reading get shut out after a degree of buzz.

Heather Ledger was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, to no one's surprise and on the first anniversary of his tragic passing. In somewhat of a surprise to me, he is up aginst Robert Downey Jr as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder. Now, I stay out of debates about whether or not the deceased should win such awards; it is my feeling that an Oscar should neither be given nor denied just because someone died in the interim. In this case, however, I have to support Downey, for several reasons (other than his hotness and my admiration for him):
  • The role of Kirk Lazarus encompassed several other roles--specifically that of Lincoln Osiris.
  • The sub-plot of Lazarus as Osiris drew attention to Hollywood's racial politics in a way that is both funny and inventive without being insulting...all because RDJ made it work.
  • While Ledger did an amazing job, psychology that abdormal is somewhat less challenging to portray. The audience has no frame of reference and therefore suspends disbelief more easily.
I hope to be posting some more reviews here soon, including oscar contenders--so watch this space!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

British Literature Fail

I usually try to avoid talking about reality television, especially American Idol; however, Idol victor Taylor Swift has recently released a single that is not totally unrelated to Story, and I think about posting this each time I hear it. This week, which saw the kickoff of Idol's--*runs to do resarch*--8th season seemed like as good a time as any.

Now, don't get me wrong: I have nothing against Taylor Swift. From everything I've heard, she seems like a sweet, down-to-earth young woman. She also has a couple of songs that I kind of like--namely "Teardrops on my Guitar" and "Picture to Burn". I even have to concede that The Song in Question is kind of catchy.

It's "Love Story". You can read the lyrics here

Done reading yet?

Can you see what's wrong?

Swift invokes William Shakespeare's doomed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, as a shorthad for both spontaneous passion and parental opposition. Plenty of singers, poets and writers have done this before. That doesn't the change the fact that, as in may of those cases, the story of this ballad ends so differently from the play.

It bugs me a little bit. Was she sick the week they studied that play in high school? Was there not another famous romance that would have worked better? (Antony and Cleopatra? Okay, maybe not...)

I'm not saying the song shouldn't end happily...but then perhaps the "Romeo and Juliet" theme could have lent itself to something more melancholy and twisted, a la Blue Oyster Cult. (Read the chorus from Love Song again if you don't believe me. ) It would have been a more interesting song, but perhaps darker than would ever be Swift's style.

Ah well; until an English major does win American Idol, I leave you with a link to the very corporate but nonetheless pleasant music video. For those readers local to me, yes, part of this was filmed at Castle Gwynn.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

An epiphany for Epiphany: The Bechdel Test.

Recently a friend of mine introduced me to the Bechdel Test—introduced by Alison Bechdel in her groundbreaing comic strip Dykes to Watch out For. The elements of the test itself are covered in the wiki, but in brief, to pass the test, a movie must include:

      1. At least two women

      2. Who talk to each other

      3. About something other than a man.

Once you start thinking about it, it's really a revelation what a simple, objective and accurate measure this is for the importance of women in a given story. It's true, a lot of “chick flicks” have women talking about men—but they pass, because they also talk about other things. It's also true that an action movie can have a strong female character who kicks ass, is treated as an equal and doesn't end up in a refrigerator; but if that is the only female character, or if her role is so peripheral to a male that she does not talk to the other women about anything else, then that film fails the Bechdel Test, because it is primarily about its male characters. What really starts to bake your noddle, as the Oracle said, is to realize that most films fail.

I don't think it's a perfect measure. Sin City actually passes, and I find that a terribly sexist movie. All of the women portrayed are sex workers of some sort—all of them—except for one social worker who spends the entire movie naked and loses her hand. Let's also not forget the gang of prostitutes who have enough firepower to knock over an armored car, but would rather continue making a living by selling themselves. It's not that I think prostitutes don't deserve respect—just that black-market prostitution, as it occurs in the real world, does not; and that to have such a narrow range of characters in a story is more a product of infantile male fantasy than of genre or setting. On the other end of the spectrum, I was relieved that the Matrix trilogy passed, because I couldn't recall any specific instance where multiple women discussed anything other than Neo. (It's worth noting here that presumably, the conversation in question need not be private.)

A movie that fails the Bechdel Test is not automatically's just not pro-woman. More specifically, it's not as balanced and complete a picture of the human experience as a movie that does. I'm guessing that most of the movies that pass, except for those rare films with an all-female cast, have at least one brief conversation between two men about something other than women.

A good movie is one that tells a human story, and almost half of all humans are male. A movie that fails the Bechdel Test may still be a good movie. But until there is parity in whose story gets told and how, the Bechdel Test provides a useful and fun gauge for the health of our popular culture and the movie industry.

(Bend it like Bechdel! If you want to see how your favorite films stack up, or to chime in on one that's been overlooked, click here. The page includes a lof of other cool links!)