Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday Playlist

1. Mott the Hoople: The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll
2. Django Reinhardt: Swing from Paris
3. Dolly Parton: We Used To
4. Elvis Presley: (I’m Gonna) Walk Dem Golden Stairs
5. Thomas Dolby: She Blinded Me with Science
6. Blondie: A Shark in Jets Clothing
7. Joni Mitchell: The Boho Dance
8. Aretha Franklin: Ain’t Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)
9. Howlin’ Wolf: Tail Dragger
10. The Muppets: The Magic Store

1. I love Mott the Hoople, and this is probably the best song on The Hoople. And at the time, it was quite an age for rock 'n' roll, at least in the UK, with glam rock in full flower. Sometimes it's funny using iTunes shuffle, because this track would be a perfect start for a rock mix. This didn't end up being a very rock-oriented mix.
2. As jazz musicians go, Django Reinhardt is perfect. Perfect ramshackle, the way jazz should sound to me.
3. If you ever want to kill yourself, Dolly Parton is a great soundtrack. Jeez, she tells a good story, but she just makes you so damn sad sometimes.
4. From my favorite gospel album, His Hand in Mine. Apparently, I have a favorite gospel album.
5. I've never thought much of this song, but it's pretty decent 80s pop.
6. A bit of a throwaway from Blondie's first album.
7. Pretty song from Joni's last really great album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns.
8. For some reason, soul music sounds especially good in the winter. If you don't like soul, it's because you don't have one. From Aretha Arrives.
9. Electric blues from The Howlin' Wolf Album.
10. A perfect cap for a Saturday Playlist; the finale from The Muppet Movie. "Life's like a movie, write your own ending."

TV Report: The Secret Life of the American Teenager

Inconsequential things are taken too seriously, serious things are taken too lightly, everyone thinks they're ready to make major life decisions, that there are no consequences to acting stupidly, and that nothing bad will ever happen to them unless it's Very Dramatic. A bunch of entitled assholes acting like the world revolves around them? Yeah, it's high school.

I just watched the entire first season of ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager and... well, I don't know. I wouldn't say I liked it, but I wouldn't say I didn't like it, either. It's a Disney show, but the kind of show they'd never run on Disney Channel because it lets in aspects of, you know, reality. Which, in a way, is a disservice to the tween audience Disney claims to care about but is more interested in exploiting. And, of course, the show's not so realistic that it can be taken seriously. I mean, I remember watching Degrassi Junior High when I was in elementary school, and that took like a lot more seriously than a show like this. So I have to just sort of sigh and say, well, I'm not the audience this show is intended for.

It's a good show for tweens, though, because it serves as a cautionary tale. A frustrating one, if you're an adult. It's about a high school girl (Shailene Woodley) who has sex once and gets pregnant, and then has to come clean with her parents. The guy who knocked her up is the school's little self-important lothario, and he's being aggressively pursued by the school slut, who is secretly one of the smartest girls in school. Meanwhile, this annoying little putz falls in love with her and her parents' marriage is breaking up. And lots of other stuff with other characters and complications that are totally contrived. It's basically a soap opera pretending to be a smarter show than it actually is. And it's weirdly compelling, annoying and contrived as it is. I'd never recommend this show to a human being over the age of 13, but I keep watching it for reasons I'm unsure of.

But they're just so whiney. Holy cats, kids today... And this is kind of what I see at work all the time. Without the pregnancy.

I'll tell you one thing I like about the show: Molly Ringwald. She plays the pregnant girl's mother, and it's the best role she's had in many a year. Molly's never looked better, I think. The Secret Life of the American Teenager makes the same mistake My So-Called Life did, which is thinking that the parents are interesting. They're not, but it gives Molly some stuff to do, and that's nice. She's good. Where has she been all this time? Was pissing off John Hughes really that much of a career killer?

(And hey, remember For Keeps, the movie where Molly Ringwald is a pregnant teenager and she marries some putz? I think Tim Kazurinsky wrote it. Anyway, I should find that and do an 80s Revisited on that. I always kind of liked that movie.)

I also love Francia Raisa as Adrian, the school slut. She makes me happy in a nostalgic way; when I was a teenager, I was always in love with the fiery Latina. The bitchier they were, the more I liked them. Especially if they did that thing where they start yelling at you in rapid fire Spanish. Ai, chihuahua, did I love that.

(That's, of course, in addition to Francia making me happy in a very unwholeseome way; but since she's actually 20, I don't feel bad about it.)

Anyway, I think the makers of this show are fooling themselves a bit by trying to make the show appeal to adults as well as teenagers; it's not clearly aimed at either audience, and the show feels unfocused sometimes as a result. I think Disney Channel should make this kind of thing for Disney Channel, honestly, and just accept that teenagers need to be cautioned about the consequences of their actions. It can't all be silly sitcoms. Of course, that's giving The Secret Life of the American Teenager more credit than it deserves, because everything on this show tends to work out predictably all right, no matter how stupid and selfish everyone is.

So... I don't know. Maybe it's really just filler programming.

TV Report: The United States of Tara

Maybe Diablo Cody's thing is to make something quirky out of stereotypes. This isn't meant as a derisive comment. But what I found so interesting about the first episode of The United States of Tara is that every character is pretty much a stereotype. You have Tara Gregor, a housewife with disassociative identity disorder. She's worried about her now-sexually-active daughter. She has a bookish, effeminate son and a "love-you-no-matter-what" type of husband. And whenever she can't deal with the stresses of her life, she retreats into a different personality that allows her to sit back and let one of her aspects take control. Everyone's a stereotype, but what's so interesting about the show is how the stereotypical suburban family has to deal with a mom who has three alter egos living inside of her.

Is it an illness? It's not really played as one, though there's some mention of medications and psychiatrists. John Corbett, as husband Max, treats Tara with understanding and patience, as though she has an ailment she can't help. But the show wisely doesn't delve too deeply into the realities of a person with DID. Whether or not The United States of Tara is, as some have accused, insensitive for making a comedy about a person with a real disorder I will leave for others to decide. DID is often the result of childhood trauma such as sexual abuse. I personally don't think the intention is to ridicule people with DID or make it seem like the end result of childhood trauma is hilarity. The show isn't meant to be serious. The disorder here is a device to examine particular aspects of womanhood and expectations.

Each of Tara's personalities is meant to highlight an area in which she considers herself lacking. The first alter ego we meet (and the family refers to them as "alters," which is a nice touch; psychobabble has permeated almost every aspect of American life as people have found themselves more fascinating than ever) is T, a 15 year-old girl who dresses like a slut and acts out. T is Tara's inability to relate to her own daughter, as well as a part of her that wishes she didn't have so much responsibility, as well as (somewhat disturbingly) her desire to be more sexually open with her husband. The second alter ego is Buck, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, gun-loving man who seems to represent not only Tara's desire to be strong, proactive, and commanding, but also partially her wish that her son was a little more masculine. Buck teases the boy relentlessly. We've yet to see the third alter ego, Alice, but from the promos she seems like a stereotypical 1950s housewife, so my guess is she's there when Tara doesn't feel "mom" enough.

Anyway, I find all that very interesting, and the fact is Toni Collette is excellent in the role. She vividly captures different personalities and invests them with their own reality. It's not Tara acting out, making larger-than-life characters and playing with them like a high school drama student. T and Buck are real people that Tara becomes; the only similarity so far is that they're all played by the same actress. They're different aspects of Tara from a psychological standpoint, but they inhabit Tara with personalities of their own. Toni Collette is somehow the perfect actress to play it, and she pulls it off splendidly. I'm not sure if each episode will be as well-scripted as I felt the first episode was, but with Collette in the lead, it almost doesn't matter. Her performance seems so effortless that she could probably play off of anything and make it sing.

I'm hooked on the show. I hope it lasts. The last new cable show I was hooked on in the first episode was True Blood, which got progressively dumber as it went on. I hope things are going to go differently for Tara, because I'm really looking forward to more of Toni.

This Must Be Why Photoshop Was Created

Because some of us have weirdly formative memories of Total Recall.

An artist called Augmenter has created alien babes in Photoshop; this is the tamest one I could find. It's also my favorite. Check out his Flickr page. You have to be signed in to access it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Throwdown 1/9

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Tentacle Grape bills itself as “The most delicious hentai soda on the market.” Seriously. Part of me just really, really has to know what this soda tastes like.

2. Daring or stupid?

3. Lindsay Lohan: “But what hurts me the most is that I work just as hard as any other actress around my age, like Scarlett Johansson, but I just don't get the opportunities that they get because people are so distracted by the mess that I created in my life. But that doesn't mean it's going to last forever.” I’m not sure what Lindsay Lohan even does for a living anymore, to be honest.

4. Once again, the Golden Raspberry nominations are out. And once again, there’s not a single surprise or interesting movie among them. Seriously, I don’t have much respect for critics and organizations that do their “worst lists” and talk about nothing but… well, bad movies. And when I say “bad movies,” I mean movies like Disaster Movie or an Uwe Boll movie or some Dane Cook piece of shit or something like Speed Racer (which I liked, but can easily see how someone would be annoyed with). They always highlight movies that were never going to be great movies in the first place. They never have the courage or are interesting enough to talk about movies that were obviously meant to be critical and audience hits, but which were terrible. Movies like Crash, which was actually insulting, or Babel. And until the Razzies stop going after such obvious and pointless targets, until they stop legitimizing throwaways as though they’re real movies, the Razzies remain pointless.

5. Ashley Tisdale: “I was always superthin, too skinny, actually . . . I realize that being a bit more curvy and toned is so much more beautiful.” That sounds awesome, when is she going to do curvy and toned?

6. Hurry! There’s only 93 more shopping days until Easter! Save the economy!

7. Huh. I didn’t know Paris Hilton sold Mary Kay. Maybe that’s the “hard work” she’s always talking about doing. Paris, by the way, is once again selling the lie that she’s never had sex with more than “a couple of people.” Because, apparently, if you keep repeating it over and over it magically becomes true.

8. Wow, do they hate each other or what?

9. That’s kind of cool: I didn’t even know they were making a new Judge Dredd movie.

10. The last major supplier of VHS tapes, Distribution Video Audio, has shipped the last of its stock. So, it’s official: VHS is dead. I wonder if it’ll come back one day, the way that records have come back. I kind of doubt it, because cassettes are never going to come back; tape technology really isn’t, you know, very good.

11. High school students in Maryland are Photoshopping pictures of other kids’ license plates, taping them to similar looking cars, and speeding through areas with automatic ticketing cameras. God, can you imagine if today’s kids used their technological knowhow and drive for something that wasn’t a complete waste of time? Contribute, fuckheads.

12. The Republicans are trying to introduce a bill that would prevent Congress from bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. With all of the problems America has right now, it’s good to see the GOP still has their eye on what’s important. They say bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, which was scrapped under (big surprise) Ronald Reagan, would all but destroy talk radio as we know it. Imagine. Of course, there’s no immediate effort on the part of anyone to actually bring back the Fairness Doctrine, but why not take care of it, just in case? Fuck, Republicans in the minority are even more insane than they were when they were running the place. Congratulations, Republicans, on your first useless distraction of 2009.

13. Laura Bush dragged her vaguely-reptilian carcass on TV to say that an Iraqi reporter throwing shoes at her husband wasn’t funny; it was “an assault.” Yeah, honey, that was the point. I know it’s impossible for you to think of your idiot bastard manchild husband as anything other than wonderful, but there are people in the world who hold him responsible for a lot of shit. He’s lucky it was only a shoe. I wish someone had thrown a something heavier at his head, like a power saw or a cinder block. Serves him right.

14. Oh, in related news, Laura also doesn’t think Duh’s presidency has been the complete and abject failure it measurably has been. “I think history will judge and we’ll see later.” That’s what roundly hated people always hope, but it’ll never be true. He’ll be as maligned as Nixon, and at least Nixon had one or two successes during his time as the nation’s crime boss. Imagine that, a woman doesn’t think her husband is a failure. In other news, my mommy thinks I’m the bestest blogger in the world.

15. You know, if spending actually stops a recession, shouldn’t the economy be booming now? Under Bush, we’ve had stimulus checks, tax cuts, and massive government spending, so if conservative logic is correct, we should be in one of the highest periods of economic prosperity we’ve ever had right now. Something to think about, I guess.

16. Levi Johnston’s daddy complained to the Anchorage Daily News that thanks to media scrutiny his precious little high school dropout/teen father has to actually follow the rules of society. “You guys are watching him so tightly. He’s being treated different than an average 18-year-old kid. He has to do everything by the book now.” Welcome to the world the rest of us live in, you unbelievable asshole. Where did this Western sense of entitlement come from, exactly? Because that is what’s going to ruin civilization entirely. That’s why we’re in the fucking mess we’re in now. Because assholes like this think living in a democracy means they can do whatever they want whenever they want and there are no consequences. Just listen to some dipshit whine about paying taxes some time. They want all of the benefits, and none of the responsibilities. The first little bonus here is that the article was about how Levi couldn’t get a job he wanted because he doesn’t have a high school diploma. The second little bonus is that Sarah Palin, who thinks that everything is about her, said that the report was some kind of political tool to further discredit her. And, really, who needs to discredit her when she just keeps opening her mouth and doing the media’s work for them? Yeah, sweetie, Levi being a dropout and incredible fuck-up is a tool the media is using against you. If he wants a job let him go back to school like everyone else has to.

17. 524,000 jobs were lost in December. The unemployment rate in America is 7.2%. But according to this Reuters article, the unemployment rate is actually much higher. Under Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the rate went down dramatically because they simply stopped counting people who had stopped looking for work for more than a year. So, according to the article, the unemployment rate in America, if it were counted the way it was counted during the Depression, would actually be around 16.5%.

18. I’m sure this sounds insensitive, but I’m going to say it anyway. It’s very sad that John Travolta and Kelly Preston lost their 16 year-old son, as it’s sad when anyone loses their child. But I do think it’s important to note that there is a lot of evidence that their son was autistic, and autism is something that scientology refuses to acknowledge or treat. There is a whole movement now led by Kelly Preston and others that is against many forms of medical treatment for children, against the treatment of autism as a disease, and against vaccinations. There are a lot of people out there who are very, very stupidly refusing to vaccinate their children because they think diseases are made up by drug companies. Yes, I’ll grant you that sometimes they are (restless leg syndrome?), but autism is something that needs to be taken very seriously by parents. I’m not saying that anyone doesn’t love their child, but I don’t know how love for your child translates into not getting them treatment for something that is affecting them the way autism does. I think it’s incredibly irresponsible for people to do what Kelly Preston does—to speak out against medical treatment for children in the guise of being concerned about overmedicating them, especially when theologically-motivated. And, tragically, I think her personal life now shows the cost of refusing to acknowledge reality.

19. Note to people I’ve read online who think that Illinois is getting carried away in its attempts to remove Governor Blagojevich from office (and they voted to impeach today, by the way): quit faulting the Illinois government for having the courage to do what Congress couldn’t be bothered to do over the past 8 years and remove a criminal from office.

20. UN Sec-Gen Ban-Ki Moon, last Friday, referring to the mess in Gaza: “I am profoundly troubled that the call of this council, issued nearly four days ago, for an end to the violence has gone unheeded.” Do you wonder if he really said that with a straight face? Meanwhile, Hezbollah has started launching rockets on Israel from Lebanon. Nothing like killing your fellow human beings in the name of a loving, caring invisible friend. I mean, we are told constantly how Islam is a religion of peace. I am fucking sick of every side in this conflict, because to me it comes down to nothing more than a lot of innocent people getting killed. Anyone who murders a child in the name of a god… It kills me that people who don’t want this war have to live with it. Hopefully, they’ll live through it. And the fact that independent journalists are not being allowed by the Israeli government to cover the war is… troubling. There is no mechanism for accountability right now, and that is really scary.

21. So, (more) war in the Middle East, an economic crisis that is going to destroy an entire generation of prosperity (thanks again, conservatives), and I got into a car accident on Wednesday. So far, 2009 fucking sucks.

"Unrestrained Earthiness"?

Spa Ads from North Carolina

These are either brilliantly retro, awesomely sleazy, or giddily creepy. Maybe all of those things and more.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

62

Happy Birthday, David

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

SMOTHER (2007)
My guess is that this movie just wasn't good enough to make it to theaters, so it premiered on Lifetime. That's the only explanation I'll allow for a movie with my darling Liv Tyler premiering on Lifetime. Rather a lot more masturbation jokes than you see in Lifetime movies, too. Anyway, hunk of wood Dax Shepard is as weirdly hostile as always, married to Liv Tyler, recently fired from his job, and has to contend with an overbearing mother (Diane Keaton in her umpteenth batty, overbearing mother role, which is getting extremely fucking old). A lot of the guy's relationship with his mom is, let's face it, way too familiar for me to find funny. I'm going with ** stars; one for beautiful Liv, and the other for Mike White, who has an all-too-small role as a struggling screenwriter who, I think, speaks for harrassed bloggers everywhere when he says "I'm sorry if you think what I write about is stupid, but I don't know how to change what makes me happy."

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII (1933)
Well, Charles Laughton is excellent in as King Henry VIII, boisterous and dangerous, childish and capricious, but the movie has room for improvement. It's a sort of by-the-numbers biopic that doesn't have much to say about the man himself, but is held together by Laughton's performance. I also love Robert Donat, and Elsa Lanchester is funny as Anne of Cleves. It's a good movie and little more, but that's enough. *** stars.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1939)
Somewhat overlong version of the Dumas novel directed by James Whale. There's a lot of good stuff in here--the swordfighting is great, it's funny in the right places, most of the actors are very good--it just goes on a bit too long before getting to the climax and doesn't grab the audience as well as it should for such an adventure. And the Musketeers get short shrift, I think; I had to check the credits to see which actor played which Musketeer. (Master scene-stealer Alan Hale is great as Athos; unfortunately, according to the credits, he's playing Porthos). But there's a lot more to recommend than there is to detract. Louis Hayward is great as the petulant, almost sadistic King Louis XIV and his secret twin brother, the daring, dashing Philippe of Gascony. Warren William, always so stagey, is pretty good as D'Artagnan, Joseph Schildkraut is foppish and cunning as Fouquet, Walter Kingsford is a stolid Colbert, and Joan Bennett is pretty (there's not much call for more) as Princess Maria Theresa. It's a fun time, ***1/2 stars. Much better than that Leonardo Di Caprio movie.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008)
Pitch fucking perfect. One of my favorite movies ever. I'm not sure I have a deeper opinion of it than that, but it is fucking perfection. **** stars. And James Franco is the best he's ever been; so great to see him and Seth Rogen together again.

Ron Asheton 1948-2009

Gonna listen to some Stooges today.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

I Don't Have to Be Perfect

Beginning of the day.

TEACHER: So, we're going to put you in where we would normally have someone who translates for our Spanish-speaking students. We have about 16 in the program. I don't suppose you speak Spanish?

ME: No, sorry. I didn't realize you needed someone who was bilingual.

TEACHER: No, that's okay, we can still use you. Most of the kids are pretty fluent.

ME: I wish they'd put that on the job description. Whenever I get a room full of Spanish-speaking kids I feel like I'm not helping.

TEACHER: Unfortunately, if we put it in the job description, no one takes it.

ME: But then you end up with someone like me, who can't speak Spanish.

TEACHER: Well, you don't have to be perfect.

End of the day.

STUDENT: Are you going to be here tomorrow?

ME: Yes.

STUDENT: Are you going to be the regular assistant now?

ME: No, she'll be back on Friday. I'm just here today and tomorrow.

STUDENT: Oh, that's too bad.

ME: Is it?

STUDENT: Yeah, I don't like the regular assistant. None of us do.

ME: I'm sorry to hear that.

STUDENT: All she does is talk about how she went to college. That, or her fiance. And she, like, yells at us a lot and doesn't help us. I think she hates kids.

ME: Wow.

STUDENT: Yeah, you should be the new regular assistant.

ME: Unfortunately, I don't speak Spanish, so they'd never let me, anyway.

STUDENT: But you're laid back and cool. We like you.

ME: I like you guys, too, but I still don't speak Spanish.

STUDENT: So? You don't have to be perfect.

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 4

I came across this online. Just seemed like a good idea to keep in mind that this is what I feel like whenever I eat fast food. Gots to work harder.

TV Report: Batman and Batman

Three's Company isn't the only old rerun I've been reevaluating lately. For the past couple of months, I've been watching Batman on Saturday mornings on a local rerun channel.

I'm talking about this guy, of course.

1966 Adam West model.

Is Batman still a love-it-or-hate-it show? It seems to come and go in cycles. I used to love it as a child; right up until the Tim Burton movie came out in 1989, actually. The great thing about Batman is that he's been interpreted so many ways that you don't have to feel compelled to love everything. You can love whatever most fits your personal interpretation of the character. But, of course, as a surly teenager, I loved the dark Batman, and the excellent Batman: The Animated Series which followed soon after. I had little patience for what seemed like a parody version of Batman, and so Adam West's delivery and the silly, labeled gadgets became objects of derision and scorn for me. Camp? Not for me!

Now, decades later, I've suddenly found myself liking the show again. Not just liking it, but loving it. I mean, yes, let's just get this out of the way now: it's a really stupid show. I mean, there's camp, and then there's dumb. And some of this show is just amazingly dumb. Seriously, I saw an episode where the Penguin got a film permit from Gotham City and then set up a fake bank robbery just to antagonize Batman. Seriously, anyone can do anything in Gotham City, it seems; convicted felons can get whatever they want just by asking for it. Even, apparently, if they have an alias.

(Incidentally, I also think it's pretty funny that Batman and Robin mentioned on the first episode that they were deputized by the Gotham Police Department, which means that the city is liable for anything they do and anyone they may rough up in the course of their crimefighting. That makes me laugh, but it also kind of delights me. The naivete is charming.)

But I get the show now. It's the style. Adam West's delivery is a stylistic choice; Batman is a boy scout. Things are labeled "Bat Computer" or "Entrance to Hidden Lair" for the benefit of the audience (and as a nod to editorial labels in comics). I get the way the humor is pitched. And boy, do I love the villains. Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, Vincent Price, Burgess Meredith, George Sanders, Milton Berle, Cliff Robertson, Victor Buono--oh, gods, do I love Victor Buono as King Tut! He's doing Shakespeare to the rafters! Cesar Romero is chewing the scenery down to the bolts! It's frigging wonderful! The villains are just a delight nine and a half times out of ten.

Honestly, the tone of the show almost makes it criticism-proof. It's aimed at kids, and a certain type of adult appreciates the humor and the audacious silliness of it all. Half of the fun comes from how unbelievably stupid and stupidly unbelievable it is. And I don't mean that in a condescending way at all; it's delightful. I love watching Batman.

(And yes, some of this has to do with my adverse reaction to The Dark Knight, which I think carried the symbolism, the psychology, and the psychotic violence so far over the top that it became over-serious and dull. Having a Batman I can enjoy on a light level is a dream after that. But trust me, this is a good show precisely because it doesn't take anything seriously and is so imperfect.)

I've also been watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Cartoon Network. I wasn't planning on watching this show, actually, but I just flipped onto it one night and fell in love. The second I saw Batman in his blue and grey costume, climbing up the sides of buildings and flying into outer space, I knew this was the Batman cartoon for me. It's very much in the vein of the Adam West series and the campier comics of the 1960s. But, at the same time, it takes the character seriously.

It's also a fanboy dream, by the way. Half of the fun for me is seeing which version of which character they're going to use; for instance, they use the new Blue Beetle but they also use the Golden and Silver Age version of Green Arrow. There's an episode with Aquaman that offers a characterization I've never seen before: he's pompous, in love with himself, and constantly repeats his exploits to show how adventurous he is. It's hilarious.

Let's just describe the show this way: on the second episode, which is wonderfully titled "Terror on Dinosaur Island," Batman and Plastic Man face Gorilla Grodd and an army of gorillas on a jungle island full of dinosaurs. They ride the dinosaurs. And they want to turn the human race into a race of intelligent gorillas. If the sight of Batman and Plastic Man fighting superintelligent gorillas holding laser rifles on flying pterosaurs doesn't instantly warm your heart... well, I don't know what to tell you except that I'm sorry about your capacity for joy, robot.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Overreaction to the New Doctor

So, we're going to play this game now.

I check out a lot of film/TV/geek sites every day on my Google Reader, and I was a bit surprised by the overreaction of a number of those sites to the casting of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. Granted, I'm simply not enthused by the choice. But that's simply because I don't know Matt Smith's work and I feel a bit annoyed that they cast someone so young. (And the youth thing is simply part of a larger annoyance I have with most of pop culture, where everyone seems to be a child these days--this was my same reaction to casting people too young to have a child as parents Superman and Lois Lane in Superman Returns; Superman is thirty, it's okay if he's an adult.) Still, as I said in the linked post, I trust Stephen Moffat's judgment and his creative abilities, so I'll wait and see what Smith does with the role. I have misgivings, sure, but I'll be happy to have them dispelled. Wait and see and hope for the best.

A number of the sites I read have said more or less the same thing. What surprised me was the way some sites have gone wild over the actor chosen as "another white male." Apparently, because so much of the fan rumor over the new Doctor involved Paterson Joseph or Chiwetel Ejiofor, it's somehow, according to a lot of writers today, an either unconscious or conscious bit of racism on the part of the BBC to cast "yet another" white guy as the Doctor. Apparently this has something to do with Barack Obama being elected president; now that we've got our first black president, we're supposed to have a black Doctor, or else we're all somehow racists. I'm not sure how or why it works that way, but all of a sudden Doctor Who, one of the more innovative and progressive-thinking science fiction series on television, is being painted as behind the times and medieval in its thinking simply because the Doctor isn't black.

Or a woman! That's been sparking even more heated commentary in chatrooms today. I simply can't read it because it's too annoying. Would it be interesting to see a woman play the Doctor? Yes, of course it would. Catherine Tate gave us a taste of that on the finale to series four, and it was pretty wonderful. I'd love to see an actress like Rachel Weisz or Gina Bellman or Emma Thompson play the Doctor. What I don't understand is the men who are extremely, utterly resistant to this idea, who get in chatrooms and write long, unreadable explanations as to why the Doctor can never, ever be a woman. I mean, the Doctor can be anyone, right? That's the beauty of the Doctor. The writers figured out a long time ago how to avoid precisely what makes DC Comics so dull and Marvel Comics so desperate: the Doctor can go on and on forever because the Doctor can literally be anyone. It doesn't have to be the same person over and over and they don't have to pull more and more desperate gimmicks out of their hats to make him appear to be the same person over and over.

Anyway, Matt Smith may not be my choice, but I'm not a producer on Doctor Who, am I? I've always wanted it to be Patrick Stewart, myself, but we all have our choices. Robson Green, or Jack Davenport, or James Nesbitt, or Bill Nighy, or Colin Salmon. Paterson Joseph would have been an interesting choice; he's an interesting actor. And maybe Matt Smith is a little underwhelming because we've been teased for a while with Paterson Joseph and the possibility of David Morrissey (who would've been a marvelous choice). But, as John pointed out in the comments of my previous Doctor Who post, "It's the burden of a Who fan to watch and wait and accept [. . .] Everyone has their favorite and their least favorite, but it's never destroyed the show."

So my question for the dissenters who have gotten into a snit over the race of the actor playing the Doctor who have asked "Why does the Doctor have to be a white guy?" is: "Why does the Doctor have to not be a white guy?"

Animal Man

When I was a little kid, my dad used to take me to a barber shop to get my hair cut. I always loved going there; I loved the smell of the place, the feel of the leather chairs, and the way the barbers would always treat me like I was older than I really was. They had a little stand there filled with magazines; Playboy on the top shelf, Time and Newsweek and National Geographic on the middle shelf, and comic books on the bottom shelf. I remember that they pretty much always had DC Comics and Disney Comics.

Being between the ages of six and eleven, I knew perfectly well who the DC characters were. I was still watching Super Friends, which spawned one of the coolest action figure series in history (my friend Jason had many of them, and they were awesome), and I loved Adam West as Batman and Christopher Reeve as Superman and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. But I could never get into the comic books themselves. I always thought they were boring when I was a kid, and it took me a long time to figure out why.

The writers who came into DC Comics in the mid-seventies were fans of the comics who grew up with these characters, and decided it was their duty to "fix" what they saw as continuity errors. It was this kind of obsessive thinking that led to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and it was this kind of thinking that continues to ruin DC Comics. This was the era of DC Comics from my childhood, and I could never get into it. I was into Marvel Comics instead, which were written more for children to enjoy than aimed directly at longtime fans.

I think, too, that there was too much of a self-conscious press to make comic books for adults in the eighties, especially at DC. Post-Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, a lot of the writers were going into purposely dark, violent territory in an attempt to get adults to take comics "seriously," which I think is a pretty immature attitude. It reminds me of when anime got extremely popular in America in the nineties, and people kept telling me it was so much better than American animation because of the sex and the violence, as though their mere utilization was automatically a sign of maturity. Far from it. Having something mature to say is a sign of maturity. And in the late eighties, when comic book heroes became murderous psychopaths, immaturity was in full swing. Hell, even Marvel got into it by deciding that crazed sociopath the Punisher was a hero.

The problem was, for every Alan Moore or Frank Miller or Neil Gaiman who had a story to tell and something to say about the form, there were hacks who just kept trying to push the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope and didn't really have anything to say at all. Which is why I didn't really get heavily into DC Comics until I was 17 (with some exceptions; I'd read whatever Frank Miller work there was to find, plus Watchmen, and was regularly glued to the Keith Giffen-J.M. DeMatteis-Kevin Maguire Justice League).

So back at the barbershop, I opted for Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck instead. And I'd still opt for them over a lot of what DC put out in the eighties.

For instance, Animal Man.

After years of being told it was something I needed to read, I sat down with Grant Morrison's Animal Man. And I tried really hard to get through the whole thing. But eventually the stupidity became overwhelming and I opted not to read the second and third collections. All it did was remind me of everything that made DC Comics so stupid in the eighties: the New Wave fashions, the girls in skimpy clothes almost getting raped around every corner, the misery and sadness on full display, the constant angst for the sake of constant angst, the constant questioning of altruistic impulses. It was like a whole exercise in "Let's just see what I can get away with." I don't have time for this. I don't have time for Grant Morrison, really; with the exception of some of his works (I cherish All-Star Superman), I see him as a negative force in DC Comics as it happens, anyway.

And my god, Animal Man is just really, really stupid.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Best Supporting Actress 2008: Amy Adams, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

My contribution to StinkyLulu's 3rd Annual Supporting Actress Blogathon.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was easily overlooked and dismissed when it came out back in March. It's that time of the year when no one's really paying attention, and it seems, on its surface (and, really, for at least the first half of the movie) to be little more than a charming period comedy with decent writing. It's an easy-breezy movie that feels a lot like a farce that doesn't quite have the energy.

But I think the movie elevates itself above that, especially in its surprisingly serious third act; the characters are written and acted with some dimension to them. Frances McDormand, Ciaran Hinds, and Lee Pace play their roles with commitment, making them real people inside this sort of sea of forced frivolity going on around them.

But my favorite is Amy Adams.

Adams plays Delysia Lafosse, a club singer and wannabe star. She's one of those characters you're always seeing described as "wide-eyed" and "bubbly," and she certainly is those things (and she lights up every room she's in with her whole, well, wide-eyed and bubbly act). But Adams brings a measured balance to Delysia. There's a gravity to this character that describes the entire thrust of the movie. Which goes back to the sea of forced frivolity I mentioned.

This is 1930s London, a time of blackouts and bombing raids. All around the edges of this movie is this sense of urgency, as though the serious concerns of the outside world are going to smash and destroy the temporal concerns of the characters. Delysia can only see her quest for fame, and is willing to become a gangster's plaything to get there. She's running from what she sees as a rather mundane, ordinary upbringing and from the seriousness of her relationship with Lee Pace (which is, of course, inescapably true love, which may interfere with her stardom). Her selfish concerns have taken on an overriding personal importance because of the lead-up to war in Europe. She needs to seize her moment before the moment disappears in a hail of bombs. All of London society feels the same press, and their frivolities have become much more forced and important as a result. And so Delysia plays the game even harder than she otherwise might, because she's caught in the same press.

The message, of course, is that such concerns really are frivolities, and people will find what is really important when the press becomes too much. Adams mirrors this with a gravity that exists just behind Delysia's exterior mirth and carelessness. The decision to give up on love in order to chase stardom wears on her, as society's decision to ignore the outside world in favor of parties and fashion wears on them. Adams lets the cracks start to widen until her big moment, when she sings "If I Didn't Care" before a nightclub and is forced to deal with the reality that, of course, she does care. Tremendously. It's a moment of bittersweet emotion, a moment when Delysia bares her heart. Ironically, it's while doing the thing she has made herself an artifice to get to: commanding attention on the stage. It's a song that asks the listener to believe in its conviction, and its the moment when Delysia finds hers.

Amy Adams was dismissed for overacting in this movie, but it's actually quite a calculated feat what she does. She plays a character who needs to appear light and charming, even ditzy and obtainable, but who is secretly very weary and desperate and pulled in two directions at once. I think she achieves a great balance between comic and dramatic without going over the top. And her voice is lovely. I've been pulling for Amy Adams to win an Oscar for about three or four years now. This is the third performance of hers I've seen that reaches Oscar-worthy heights.

Song of the Week: "Antmusic"

Adam and the Ants want you to ignore disco and dig their sound. I always did. I just happened to think of this song today; always a favorite. From the 1980 debut album, Kings of the Wild Frontier. The sound on this is not optimal.

Giant Cuttle Fish

Sunday Hottie 205

ESTHER BAXTER