Saturday, December 21, 2013

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 7

I read part of this chapter in a Carl Sagan voice. I realize that yesterday was the anniversary of his death. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

So: the playroom.

It's a straight-up torture chamber. That's all there is to it. Let's not soften things by calling it a playroom. Let's not obfuscate here. This is a torture chamber. EL James can describe all of the things she ever looked up online about BDSM, be they real or exaggerated--whips, chains, shackles, the Saint Andrew's Cross (though she doesn't call it by name), the ropes, the restraints, canes, paddles, riding crops, carabiners, canopy bed, and "funny-looking feathery thing"--but it's not a house of mystery and eroticism, because there's nothing mysterious or erotic about this book. It's a torture chamber. And because you're wondering, Ana, the couch in the room is probably for an audience.

It's not that he has a torture chamber that actually bothers me. It's that she describes the effect of the soft lighting and burgundy-and-wood decor as "womblike." Oh, and "soft and romantic."

This whole thing is turning out to be 50 shades of psychological sex problems.

I can't wait for the mechanical "I looked this up on Wikipedia because I was afraid to go to a BDSM chatroom" descriptions of their... well, let's not degrade sex by calling what they're going to do sex. It's not even going to be BDSM. This chapter makes it absolutely clear that EL James doesn't know anything about BDSM. Let's just call it torture. Or abuse. Abuse seems more accurate.

Ana says she's feeling fear (and in the same way she felt desire this morning by having to think really hard about what fascinating sensation she's experiencing this second; "I recognize it now.") but she's just so blase about everything. Her reaction seems less like fear and more like she's just saying "Bondage... huh." It shouldn't be surprising that James can't make fear any more tangible than any other emotion. She seems more fascinated by how ornate and well-crafted the bed is than any of this other stuff going on. Even Christian gets annoyed.

Here's a moment that actually really bothers me. She basically asks if he's the dom or the sub by asking "Do you do this to people or do they do it to you?" And he's actually taken aback and says "People? I do this to women who want me to." It just reads to me like... remember in the interview when he was truly, deeply angry at Ana's suggestion that he might be gay? It's like more of that. Like he's just offended at the idea that he's not in here torturing women. Which is just more of why I hate this character so much. Wait, I have a psychotic desire to own and hurt women that far exceeds what healthy BDSM play actually is and goes right off the deep end to abusing and torturing women because of what are clearly some deep-rooted mommy issues, but I'm not some kind of DEVIANT!

I hate this guy so much, and I hate Ana for thinking he's so fascinating.

"If you have willing volunteers, why am I here?" "Because I want to do this with you, very much." She thinks to herself "Why?" and I have to say, I have no fucking clue. She tells us she's depressed at the thought that he likes to hurt women, but after he explains the difference between being a sadist and a Dominant (which, in his case, seems mainly to be a level of arrogance), she "realizes" that she really wants to please him. Which is sort of obvious to everyone here, because so far she's done literally every single thing he's ordered her to do.

(Here's a tip, ladies: when a guy never asks you to do anything, but instead always says "I want you to...", you're being commanded, not asked. Being asked ends in a question mark and gives you the dignity of choice.)

"I want him to be damned delighted with me." More Elizabethan prose. She says she doesn't know how he wants to be pleased, which, honey, look at your immediate surroundings. I know you only read [classic British literature], but how naive am I supposed to believe you are? You never "borrowed" your mother's copy of Outlander or something? Lots of spanking in that book. Seriously, there's a level of naivete I find believable in a character who's basically a cat lady with no life experience, and then there's just fucking stupid.

"I have rules, and I want you to comply with them. They are for your benefit and my pleasure." Notice that he didn't say our pleasure, because he doesn't care about whether you enjoy it. That's not the point. "If you follow these rules to my satisfaction, I shall reward you. If you don't, I shall punish you, and you will learn." That sounds about as romantic as the Old Testament.

"So you'll get your kicks by exerting your will over me." She totally smacks of that person you know who had to take Psych 101 for a degree requirement and then thinks they have everyone's behavior figured out immediately. Like when she kept dismissively (yet triumphantly and even smugly) saying "control freak" over and over again. You haven't even scratched the surface of what's going on with this guy.

"It's about gaining your trust and your respect, so you'll let me exert my will over you. I will gain a great deal of pleasure, joy even, in your submission. The more you submit, the greater my joy--it's a very simple equation." No, it's a very simplistic explanation. And, again, all I'm hearing is what he gets out of it. What does Ana get out of it? And how are you planning to gain her trust and respect when you're basically just throwing her into this? Dude, you have to ease into this. Basically, you've just kissed once. Oh, and she used your toothbrush. That's pretty much all that's happened. You don't go right from tonguing in an elevator to tying her down and caning her.

(I feel like John Cleese as the master in Meaning of Life.)

All of this is actually making me wonder a couple of things about Christian Grey. First, is this the first time he's ever done this? I mean, his torture chamber is awfully clean and sterile for someone who likes to do this. Has he just been waiting for the one person to come along and finally do it? He doesn't seem experienced at all. (I know this is largely an authorial failure, because EL James clearly has no idea about the world of BDSM, and is now going to have to pretend--but probably not too hard--to be well-versed in it.)

And second, is this the only way he can get off? By hurting people? Because... look, I know some men think they're into sadomasochism and being dominant, but if you talk to some of those guys long enough, it becomes clear that what they're really about is just beating women and making them subservient and making them feel bad about themselves. It's not bondage, it's abuse--physical, psychological, and emotional. I can't stress enough that these are not the same thing. BDSM involves open communication, honesty, and consent. BDSM is a consensual power exchange that's built on trust. I know Christian told her that he wanted to gain her trust, but if he did, he wouldn't be hardselling her now on what is literally their first actual date.

Christian Grey is an abusive asshole hiding behind a legitimate kink and consent-based lifestyle to justify his desire to control and hurt people.

He just wants her to give him power over her.

"Okay, and what do I get out of this?"

"Me."

Ugggggghhhhh. This is when she should be barfing. Dude, no, that's just... NO. You arrogant shitstreak, no.

You know that you can't actually force someone to love BDSM, right? I know she's a people pleaser, but the fact that she's so self-righteous about it kind of says to me that she doesn't actually have a good sub personality. This is not going to be a good partnership. And yes, even if you're the dom, it's a partnership. The sub gives you her (or his) submission. It's not something you take. It's about someone having enough trust and faith in you to willingly relinquish their control. That's another key point James has no idea about at all. And you respect that, you asshole.

Then he shows her the room where she'll be living on the weekends, which Ana describes as white, cold and sterile, but at least it has a great view. And she kind of thinks it's okay, but she's also horrified and she thinks he's a monster because he's into torture, which is not what makes him a monster. What makes him a monster is his terrible approach to it. Then he reprimands her (author's word) again about getting so drunk last night, and leads her by the hand back to the living room so they can eat, like he's some kind of Dracula.

This is the worst thing I've ever read, and I've read Dianetics.

For some reason, Ana noting that Christian is cutting up a "French baguette" just made me laugh. You mean it's not Persian? Did he have the baguette flown in directly from France. Is it the morning's first loaf. Cheese, sausages, soup for breakfast? (If you recognize that line, I love you.) Oh, yes, there's cheese. The housekeeper left cheese for supper. Which, really, you might want to fire her if she thinks that's supper. Cheese is not a meal. Do you hear me? Cheese is not a meal.

(Sorry; need to get my laughs in where I can, because this thing will drive you to drink.)

Well, at least he's honest when he says he doesn't want a "real" relationship with her. I think he's being less honest when he says he's done this fifteen times before. Bullshit. At his age? Two, maybe. But I still don't buy it. I guess it's hard for me to see him as intimidating when I'm so much older than him, but come on, he seems so inexperienced when he talks about this. He's also too eager for it. It's like you can see him quivering with excitement that he's finally going to get to see real boobs. He's like a Jack in the Box with one note left, just waiting for the handle to turn that final time. Because, you know, there's just something amazing about her, and he's like a moth to the flame. No, he actually says that. That cliche actually comes out of his mouth. "I'm like a moth to a flame." Jesus, calm down, you're going to spill it all over your carpet. And then won't the housekeeper who thinks cheese is a meal like some kind of fucking lunatic have a real lousy day at work?

No, no, all fifteen of them totally exist. I met them at Niagara Falls. You don't know them.

Forget that moth to the flame bullshit. That's just manipulation and lies. Because as we're going to find out from his set of rules, she could literally be anybody, because nothing is going to be about what she wants. She's an instrument for Christian to pleasure himself. Don't fool yourselves. If he has an attachment to her specifically, it's because there's something about her--her innocence, whatever--that he's going to get off on making subservient, abusing, and destroying. That's the dark shit that the author isn't smart enough to recognize.

Ana, like any reasonable person, wants to know more about what's going on, and she's surprised when she asks if he's ever been beaten and he says yes, he has. Then he changes the subject before he can say "Yes, by my foster mommy, and now I think it's love and I am just so screwed up inside and need therapy."

She's still so blown away by all of this dark shit, but, I have to be honest, it really doesn't bother me on the surface. It's hard for me to get all worked up by just some bondage and S&M. I fully admit I'm a pervert, but I'm at least a well-adjusted one. I don't hide in the dark all ashamed for getting off on two consenting adults playing games. Who cares? Life is really, really short, guys. However roughly they want to do it, whatever people fantasize about, whatever they get off on, whatever pleasures they wonder about, as long as they're not hurting anyone, who am I to judge? Remember what Luis Bunuel said: fetishes have no meaning except that they are fetishes. This outlook of mine is why I don't get all caught up in these stories where we're meant to be shocked. James Franco wrote a whole thing about the Michael Fassbender movie Shame and how ridiculous it was that we were supposed to think Fassbender's hunger being so strong that it extended to getting his dick sucked by a man was all dark and psychological and shocking. He's right. It's the reason why, on one level, Eyes Wide Shut is hilarious: because Tom Cruise spends the movie trying to get laid simply because he feels like he lost his manhood simply because Nicole Kidman felt lust for another man that she never even acted on. Dude, if you're that insecure and amazed by perversion, you need to just stay inside with your doors locked all the time, because there are sites on the internet that will fuckstart your brain.

Anyway. That movie... I saw that again last weekend, and that's a whole other rant waiting to happen.

But for now, this shit.

Yeah, I don't have a problem with the idea of BDSM, I have a problem with the way he's framing it as basically being about him and not about what she wants at all. So Christian hands her a copy of the rules, which are insulting, but also really funny.

Now, these rules I'm not going to alter, because you have to see this shit. I'll bold them, because I'm going to be commenting all over this shit.

Obedience:

The Submissive will obey any instructions given by the Dominant immediately without hesitation or reservation and in an expeditious manner. The Submissive will agree to any sexual activity deemed fit and pleasurable by the Dominant excepting those activities which are outlined in hard limits (Appendix 2). She will do so eagerly and without hesitation.

Basically: do everything I say no matter what it is, have sex any way I want you to no matter what, and you have to like it. That's this whole thing. This whole rule of his. That's not consent. It isn't. It's basically saying "You give me permission to rape you and you have no decision in the process at all."

There's nothing about a safe word in there. Where's the safe word? Safety and trust, asshole. Safety and trust and consent. Boundaries must be respected at all times. There's nothing respectful here at all.

By the way, even if she signs something, I don't think there's any way this can hold up in court. It's cute that it's all official-sounding and in legalese, but this is not a legal document. He's basically asking her to sign over her free will. That's not a thing that legally you can do. It's not going to protect him from the law if he accidentally kills her. (His money probably will, though, because life is horrible.)

Sleep:

The Submissive will ensure she achieves a minimum of seven hours sleep a night when she is not with the Dominant.

A real dom doesn't need control over your sleep patterns. An abuser does. An abuser wants control over every aspect of your life. This is not BDSM. Stop acting like it is, people too stupid to know any better.

Food:

The Submissive will eat regularly to maintain her health and well-being from a prescribed list of foods (Appendix 4). The Submissive will not snack between meals, with the exception of fruit.

Okay, so he gets to control your appearance and when and what you can eat? Deal breaker. Walk out right now. This is abuse. This is not respectful. Why are you not getting that he has no respect for you? This isn't sex. This is slavery. This is asking you to sign a consent form to be his slave in all aspects of your life. This... this is not a legal document.

Clothes:

During the Term, the Submissive will wear clothing only approved by the Dominant. The Dominant will provide a clothing budget for the Submissive, which the Submissive shall utilize. The Dominant shall accompany the Submissive to purchase clothing on an ad hoc basis. If the Dominant so requires, the Submissive shall wear during the Term any adornments the Dominant shall require, in the presence of the Dominant and any other time the Dominant deems fit.

What the actual fuck? He gets to dress you, too? Don't you understand that it's not about you and how he just can't stay away from you? Because according to these rules, you could be literally anybody in the world. He doesn't require a personality, he just requires a body, because he's going to shape that person into what he wants them to be, no matter what. Again, this isn't about consent, this is about doing what he says and being okay with that.

I bet she doesn't get to keep the clothes, either. He just wants to dress her up when they go out. If she gets to keep them, they'll be gifts, and that's basically prostitution.

Exercise:

The Dominant shall provide the Submissive with a personal trainer four times a week in hour-long sessions at times to be mutually agreed between the personal trainer and the Submissive. The personal trainer will report to the Dominant on the Submissive’s progress.

Personal Hygiene/Beauty:

The Submissive will keep herself clean and shaved and/or waxed at all times. The Submissive will visit a beauty salon of the Dominant’s choosing at times to be decided by the Dominant, and undergo whatever treatments the Dominant sees fit.

Personal Safety:

The Submissive will not drink to excess, smoke, take recreational drugs, or put herself in any unnecessary danger.

I'd just be repeating myself commenting on all of this. This is all so insulting. By the way, this last part isn't about safety. Safety would be serious discussion of boundaries, limits and safe words. But he won't have any of that. For him, safety is about smelling good, tasting nice, not puking, and not getting your legs broken (probably unless it's by him).

(Aside: I bet he's read American Psycho nine times and thinks it's a manual, like most business fucks in America today. I bet he owns memorabilia from the movie version. The raincoat, probably.)

Personal Qualities:

The Submissive will not enter into any sexual relations with anyone other than the Dominant. The Submissive will conduct herself in a respectful and modest manner at all times. She must recognize that her behavior is a direct reflection on the Dominant. She shall be held accountable for any misdeeds, wrongdoings, and misbehavior committed when not in the presence of the Dominant.

Okay, her behavior does not reflect on you directly, especially if she's just out with friends (if she's even allowed to do that by the terms of his contract). And she's not accountable to you unless you've agreed on that, too, especially for whatever she does on her own.

The thing is, actual BDSM, which this is not (this is actual slavery), is about trust. He even said it was about gaining her trust. And to facilitate trust, you need real communication about the parameters of your relationship. Writing down what you want and then forcing her to agree to all of it is not trust. Having to write it down is actually the thing you do because you don't have trust.

Failure to comply with any of the above will result in immediate punishment, the nature of which shall be determined by the Dominant.

Boy, you really need to talk about what forms punishment can take and she has to agree. You cannot leave it vague like that. That's not fair to her, and you're going to go too far if you don't know where the limits are.

Ladies, never enter a BDSM sexual relationship with a man who is this vague about punishments. Also, never enter into a BDSM sexual relationship with a man who thinks that his control over you extends to your dress, your hobbies, your exercise, your hygiene, your sleep patterns, your diet, or your private life. It can, but that shit has to be agreed on beforehand, not "as we go along." And if it's an "as we go along" situation, there needs to be actual discussion about whether it's a one-time thing, or whether you're experimenting, and other limits, because it can't all just be at his whim and you have to do it no matter what. Trust me on this, okay? You cannot just give someone all of this power and then decide it only counts part of the time, because that's confusing. It needs to go both ways. Open communication, not just agreements to things you haven't fully defined.

And do you know what Ana's biggest objections to these rules are? She wants to work out three days a week instead of four, she's annoyed at the idea of waxing "everything," and she thinks accepting money for clothes feels wrong.

Those are her biggest objections.

Those are the things she has a problem with.

He demands that she exercise four days a week under his indirect supervision because he wants to keep her strong and supple so he can torture her sexually, and what she hears is "Ugh, four?" (Christian's one and only concession is that she can take it down to three days, instead, after which he calls her "a good negotiator" in what I can only assume is meant to be sarcasm.)

It's important that we note that this is not a contract about what they get to do in the bedroom. This is an agreement to give up your free will and make yourself subject to a man that you are having second and third and fourth and fifth feelings about but whom you have a hard time saying no to because OMG SO HOT.

It's also important that we remember that he's already made her sign a nondisclosure agreement, which she did without even reading it. So when she signs this--and she tells us in the narration that she knows she will--not only does he get to control every aspect of her life, she can't even tell anyone about it. I'm amazed he doesn't require her to live there full time, because what if she's ever out in the world and suddenly realizes that maybe she's entitled to actual autonomy?

Christian then outlines his "hard limits," which are basically no fire, no piss, no shit, no cutting, no needles, no gynecological medical stuff, no children or animals (which isn't a limit so much as a law, you fucking bag of dicks), no electric currents (yikes), no breath control, and my personal favorite, nothing that leaves any permanent marks on the skin... or as I like to call it, "evidence."

Now, to her credit, at least she realizes there's probably something wrong if he has to write all this stuff down. (Seriously, ladies, if your guy has to write down "don't fuck children," that's probably a red flag, because who forgets that?) But then this chapter ends in stupidity and confusion even more stupid and confusing than the stupidity and confusion so far: he asks what her limits are. And of course she doesn't know, because she's never been in a relationship before. And Christian freaks the fuck out about it. He's actually angry that she never told him she was a virgin. Which, first of all, you've only known her for a couple of days, so it's no surprise it's never come up before. I know you have to be a stereotype and think she's been leading you on, but I'm not buying the outrage here. You targeted her specifically because she was inexperienced enough for you to push her around. You know why? Because a mature woman with actual experience wouldn't put up with your bullshit. So don't get all pissy with me about you not knowing something about her that you never even gave her the chance to tell you.

It's not like you care about who she is as a person in the first place, you fucking liar.

She doesn't know what she likes in a relationship because she's never been in one. The only way she's going to figure it out is if they do something and she doesn't like it. And if she doesn't? Well, that's too damn bad, because this contract makes it impossible for her to refuse anything.

Wow, yeah, this is certainly an erotic romance, you guys.

This was both the longest and shortest chapter so far. The longest because there was so much to unpack, and the shortest because it was only 10 pages long, ladies and gentlemen.

You made me read this, Carl.

I am going to have you shot into the sun for this.

Friday, December 20, 2013

One of You Is Very Generous

Signs of generosity towards me always make me wonder if someone made a terrible mistake. Goes against my schema of worthlessness. I'm trying really hard to get over that. But I'm also genuinely touched by your donation and I thank you. You've helped make it a merrier Christmas around here.


[x]

Xmas: Tumblr Finds III

This will be the last one of these posts this year, since next Friday will be post-Christmas (and probably I'll do a Marvels post that day before I start posting my year-end lists). I almost didn't do these, but I'm glad I did. I love all of the vintage Christmas I'm seeing on Tumblr this year. Vintage Christmas feels more like my version of Christmas, Christmas the non-denominational American holiday. If that fills you with rage, how have you been reading my blog all these years?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #41

"The Stronghold of Doctor Strange!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(May 1963)

No, not that Doctor Strange, just some guy who wants to conquer the world with his gadgets. I appreciate the early stab at giving Tony Stark a villain who's the opposite of him--a mechanical genius who wants to use his work to subjugate humanity rather than benefit it--but the character just has nothing interesting about him, and I wonder why they didn't just use a villain already established in the Marvel Universe.

In typical Robert Bernstein style, Doctor Strange is able to break out of the prison he's being in held in because he already knew that Iron Man was going to appear at a nearby hospital to entertain children. Somehow. Well, how doesn't matter, because that would introduce logic, which would get in the way of this lazily-written story. What's important is that Doctor Strange knew it was going to happen, and he prepared for it in advance. Tony Stark arranged for this, but didn't actually announce it was going to happen until the night before, while attending a charity benefit, so I don't know how Doctor Strange is hearing about it.

The benefit itself sort of goes on for pages, by the way, mainly because it's an early issue, and for anyone who missed the first two, we have to reestablish who Anthony Stark is and why he's so awesome and why he's got to brush off his date, who is basically trying to catch him so she can marry him. It's poorly weaved in, though, because someone's bright idea was to have Stark tell his date all of the reasons he has no time to get married--managing munitions plants, scientific research, US defense tests--while also thinking to himself about how busy he is as Iron Man, and as a result, it's basically like he's telling his date "Sorry, babe, but I'm just to awesome to let some dame tie me down." Stark's a lot of things, but likable isn't really one of them yet. Neither is humble. (This takes up three and a half pages of a 13-page story.)

So, Doctor Strange: "Not for nothing have I been called the Master of Evil," he says, as though we're supposed to be impressed by this unimposing character we've never seen before. Sorry, but no one's the Master of Evil in a world where Doctor Doom exists (although the world still thinks he shrank into nothingness way back in Fantastic Four #10). But still, this guy's small time, and his attempts to be grand are just weird, embarrassing, and lazily written. The Wizard could outsmart this guy.

His guards even fall for that thing where he pretends to be sick, and then he somehow uses this thing he made out of transmitters or something to hypnotize Iron Man and make Iron Man break him out of prison. Part of the problem I'm having with this story is that Stan Lee or Larry Lieber would have thrown in something that at least sounded reasonably scientific. In Bernstein's dialogue, Strange keeps referring to his invention as a "contraption," which is a word you use when you have no idea what something is. Why am I supposed to be intimidated by a "Master of Evil" who can't even describe what he's created?

Out of nowhere, Strange's motivation turns out to be that he both wants to rule the world and impress his daughter Carla. Now, here I thought they were really going to introduce a plot complication by having Carla turn out to be Tony's date from the night before. Tony kept calling her "honey" and "doll" in a way that I found sexist and not charming, but I figured, alright, it's clumsy, but they did it for the plot, so you'd be surprised when his daughter Carla turns out to be Tony's date. Hope. She's just some other woman. Doctor Strange takes her to live on his island with his cronies, "the most cunning scientists and power-mad military men on earth!" Just... shut up, man. This is like a five year-old wrote it.

Anyway, he holds the planet hostage with nuclear weapons, but Iron Man tunnels up under the island because Doctor Strange's force field doesn't extend under water, and Iron Man knocks out the source of his power, but all of Iron Man's energy drains, but Carla helps Iron Man recharge with a couple of D batteries out of a flashlight, and Doctor Strange forgives his daughter because he loves her and then escapes somehow. All in the last two pages.

I talked about it more than I planned, but this story sucks. I don't think Doctor Strange ever comes back, either, which I'm more than fine with.

Notes:

:: I dig the demonstration Iron Man gives to the kids at the hospital as a much more organic, in-story way to show off some the suit's abilities, like boot-jets and magnets that allow him to juggle cars.

He also catches and crushes a cannonball fired out of a cannon.

:: Not a big fan of Kirby's art in this issue. I mean, it's fine--jeez, it's Kirby--but I miss what Don Heck was doing. He gave it this whole Robert McGinnis spy novel kind of feel that's more suited to the character. Or, really, what the character eventually becomes.

Next time: Ant-Man gets old.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Xmas: "Aspenglow"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #21, thought it technically isn't a Christmas song. Another version of this John Denver song does appear on his great Rocky Mountain Christmas, though, and between my love for that album and his album with the Muppets, Denver clearly says Christmas to me. (Besides, sometimes the songs I put on my Christmas mixes just have the right mood if not the explicit subject matter.) This version of the song, which is the version on the great Rocky Mountain Collection, is my favorite. "The version with the bells."

Film Week

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

GRAVITY (2013)
So few films get this balance right where I want it to be, but the way this film balances the terror and wonder of our endeavors in space with a very human kind of spirituality is masterful. Not only the best film of 2013, but one of the best films I've ever seen. Sandra Bullock stars in an excellent performance as an astronaut attempting to return to the planet after the mid-orbit destruction of her Space Shuttle. Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use long, unbroken shots punctuated by sudden, claustrophobic close-ups to create this sense of being lost against the nothingness of space. Bullock is at once engulfed and completely adrift. It pulled me in and didn't let me go, and gave me an emotional and urgent experience in a relatively short amount of time (90 minutes--it's a succinct and lean movie, and very well-paced; any more would have been harder to endure and maybe not playing fair with the audience). I especially grokked the themes of evolution and of resilience in the face of isolation and disaster. It's a thrilling, powerful movie. (And yes, I'm aware of the scientific inaccuracies and exaggerations, they just don't ruin the emotional reality of the film for me.) An astounding piece of work that I actually feel privileged to have seen. ****

I forgot to mention; Ed Harris is the voice on CAPCOM, which I just thought was really nice, having seen him play John Glenn in The Right Stuff and Gene Kranz in Apollo 13, the two other best movies about astronauts. I don't know what I'd do in a movie about space exploration without him.

THE CONJURING (2013)
A surprisingly fun horror movie. I don't generally go in for haunted house movies (my wife, however, loves them, so I see quite a few), but this one was moody and atmospheric and very cinematic. Most importantly, it's genuinely scary; the sound effect stings and the sudden shocks don't feel cheap. The film stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, but the film wisely decides to focus more on the family caught up in the "true" haunting of the Perron family in 1971; the family theme makes the danger more immediate. It's nothing you haven't seen before, I'd wager, but it's very well-done and involving. ***1/2

My Christmas Tree 2013

I wanted to take some pictures of my new tree, but I just can't hold my hands steady enough today. (These pictures were taken by Becca the other day.) So I shot a shaky video, instead.


Enjoy my tree and such. Sorry about my voice, there's not much I can do there.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Marvels: Strange Tales #108

"The Painter of a Thousand Perils!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(May 1963)

Johnny Storm's big menace this time around certainly isn't an enemy to rival last issue's epic dust-up with the Sub-Mariner. In fact, he actually makes Paste-Pot Pete look legit. Say hello to Wilhelm Van Vile, an art forger and counterfeiter with magic paint. Yep.

Whatever he paints becomes real and he can control them telepathically. After being busted by the Human Torch for counterfeiting money, Van Vile broke out of prison by tunneling under it and found an underground mural of aliens flying away from Earth. According to the hieroglyphs on the wall--"Similar to ancient Egyptian picture-writing which I've studied!"--the aliens used to use these supernatural paints to travel the universe. And the paints also make the painter paint really fast. And also some was left here by mistake. So Van Vile decides to become a super-criminal. Because all you need is magic paint and some thugs, right?

No, of course not. Van Vile is an idiot and his illusions aren't that great. His big trick here is that he creates paint duplicates of the Fantastic Four and has them kill the Torch (with a grenade!), but--and this is always my least favorite plot device, though it usually happens in Ant-Man stories--the Torch knew about it all along. Apparently he had somehow, off-panel, discovered the secret of Van Vile's paints and managed to paint a duplicate Torch, and that's who was killed by the duplicate FF. So the Human Torch just burns all of the paint and Van Vile goes back to jail.

And nothing of consequence--or entertaining--happened.

Notes:

:: Johnny shows off some new applications of his powers in this issue, such as melting the asphalt on the road to stop a getaway car, and puffing giant smoke rings around some thieves, which causes them to faint so they can easily be arrested.

:: Van Vile's carelessness is established by showing him being busted in the earlier, art forgery phase of his career. A cop admonishes: "You colored the 'Blue Boy' green!" That's not careless, that's a special kind of obliviousness. Dude, it's right there in the popular name for it!

:: Johnny says he was tipped off to the fake FF because Van Vile was so careless that he didn't even put the number 4 logo on their uniforms. What bugs me here is that it's the sort of thing where you should be able to read that, go back and look, and realize that you missed it, too. Instead, looking back I see Reed and Sue were drawn in a way where their chests were always obscured or not visible. That's cheating. Not a fun story. Skip it and you'll miss nothing.

:: I don't like Robert Bernstein's writing, particularly in this issue. I said earlier that he was moonlighting at Marvel and was mainly a DC writer, and this story is like the worst DC stories of the time, where people just happen to have all of the knowledge they already need for the plot to work, and because of that the plot sort of adds up to nothing because there's no drama and the situation itself is too silly to care about. No drama, no excitement, but things move around and then stop.

Next Marvels: Dr. Strange. No, not that one.

TV Complaint

Not enough for a report, but just a complaint that of all the things I don't like that they're doing this season on How I Met Your Mother, probably the one I hate second-most is the constant referencing and callbacks to "classic" gags from earlier, funnier seasons. I know it's supposed to be a sort of goodbye because this is the last season, but it just feels desperate to me. Like someone acknowledging that, yes, it's been a bad show for a couple of seasons, but here's some of the stuff you used to like. Well, I also used to like well-written character interplay.

But the thing I hate the most is the way they're finally introducing the mother. I really dislike this thing where apparently each of Ted's friends is going to have this magical, transformative experience meeting her before she eve gets to Ted. She's so magical! She made Barney realize he wanted to marry Robin! She was supportive of Lily and helped get Marshall to the wedding! She's not a character yet, she's a pretty plot device, and I really think the show's working too hard to make us love her by telling us over and over (through the other characters) how amazing she is rather than just having her interact and be a character.

Now, granted, this is in part the fault of the show itself, because it's been rather ham-handedly building her up for years, to the point where a lot of viewers got impatient with the show. That's too bad, because for a few of those years, it was one of the best shows on television; it didn't have to be about meeting someone, because it was about growing up and finding yourself, and that was compelling and entertaining enough on its own. Now, since it's the last season, we're getting the mother shoved down our throats and they apparently don't have time to do it with finesse.

Last night's episode was particularly bad, with this cipher character Darrin dropped in out of nowhere as a way of (a) getting the best friend characters to confront one another so all the conflicts get out in the open and then get resolved (aside: these are honestly the most selfish characters on TV at this point; their constant refrain should be "Jeez, but did you ever think about how your problems affect me?") and (b) manufacturing a dilemma for the mother so that Ted could unknowingly resolve it, because apparently that's what passes for character development on this show. Not that it matters, because everyone's been out of character so much this season, anyway, in service of whatever the hell the larger plot is supposed to be now.

(Remember when this was just a show about Ted dating? Now it's The Barney Show and constantly bringing Barney and Robin to the brink of breaking up, only to assure us they were always meant for each other, even though I have no idea why or how since they actually have the worst chemistry together of any two characters on the show and they can't even get through the wedding weekend without thinking they should break up and frankly I have a hard time believing that a strong, independent woman like Robin would be so head over heels for a guy who used to be a Charming Bastard character but turned into a full-blown Quagmire-like rapist caricature played for laughs about two seasons ago.)

Anyway, I dislike the way the show is letting everyone else approve of the mother before she even meets Ted, and how she's changing everyone's lives just so it will seem like she's integral to keeping the group together, because now it's probably going to feel less like she and Ted just click together perfectly and more like peer pressure because, hell, everyone in this group is so co-dependent that Lily can't even fathom the idea of Robin making a friend when they spend the summer apart and Ted moving to Chicago apparently threatens the fabric of reality. Yeah, it's sad when friends move, but jeez, remember a few seasons ago when Robin moved to Japan for a little while and the universe didn't die? I thought we were growing up, guys.

Ugh, this season. Mawkishness, filler. Contrived fanservice. Acting out of character just for laughs. The show is leaning too heavily on the barely-registering Barney/Robin relationship for emotional heft, and it just isn't there for me. I'm not invested in it, and they've made the whole season about it. And hey, here's the mother, just to satisfy the people who've been impatient about it for years. Who cares if it's done in a smug, unsatisfying, inorganic plot device sort of way?

I guess I find it so preposterous in large part because, really, it's a mystery I never cared about. I was enjoying the characters too much to find a reason to be impatient about it. Shoving it in my face forces me to reassess everything more critically, and I'm not enjoying what I see.

Congratulations on derailing yourself, show I used to love.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Xmas: Peanuts, 1968

Midseason TV Report

Really not much to report, but just a couple of observations.

:: I love that Eric Andre has been on 2 Broke Girls. I wish he'd stay on for a long time, but I wished that with Ryan Hansen and the show screwed me on that, so I'm not getting my hopes up.

:: I've been enjoying Mom more as it goes along. I haven't really been able to stop watching it. I think it's because of the way it's about recovery and it sort of ties in with my own therapy. They're finding the show and the right elements to focus on, I think. Why does every sitcom have a cast of thousands these days, though? Let's rein it in a bit.

:: I think I'm done with Trophy Mom. Love you, Malin, but the show's not rewarding enough for how all-over-the-place it is (another cast of thousands) and putting up with Marcia Gay Harden. Nothing against her as a professional, but her performance is so hard line and her character is so imperious that she just sets my teeth on edge. It's a drag to watch.

:: I saw someone complaining that doing an episode of Agents of SHIELD which tied into Thor: The Dark World (which, really, only just mentioned it rather than having anything to do with it) was making the Marvel Cinematic Universe "too bloated" and that he didn't want to have to watch a bunch of stuff just to keep current with the story, because "who has time?" My response is basically that (a) the MCU actually does a really great job of not making it absolutely integral that you've seen every single bit of it to enjoy the rest of it (yes, you might not know who everyone is right at the beginning of The Avengers, but it's also not really key, based on feedback I've seen), and that (b) you're basically going to get 22 episodes of a TV series, two movies, and maybe a couple of shorts in a given year. So, really, you're complaining that something like 30 or so hours of your life, spread out over an entire year, is a gigantic time commitment? Okay, but, no one's making you keep up, dude. Just don't watch it.

Oh, wait, then you'd have nothing to complain about. Silly me.

:: Thank you, Nashville, for apparently killing off Peggy. Can we do Teddy next?

:: I'm still loving everything on the grandly batshit American Horror Story: Coven with the exception of the little teenage witches and their teenage witch problems. Not so into it. It's like some half-baked version of X-Men. But Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates make up for everything that's not as great this time around. I concede a good deal of it is that witches have honestly never been that interesting to me.

:: Two weeks of no Parenthood and now we finally get one before the Christmas hiatus and there's no Joy Bryant in it? Not cool, NBC.

:: Saturday Night Live's been finding itself again the last few episodes. So many heavy-hitters at once left them with a vacuum, but they're finding their identity now. The first few episodes this season were rough, though. (That's a nice way of saying awful.)

:: I watched The Sound of Music Live on and off. I don't really care much for The Sound of Music, and I don't really care much for Carrie Underwood, who is a talented singer but not an actress. When they do this again next year--and I'm predicting The King and I because it's basically The Sound of Music in Asia--I hope they go for someone with more of a musical theater background. You know, I feel mean saying some of that, though, because it's not like she didn't try her hardest. She was game to do it, she's just inexperienced.

Stephen Moyer surprised me. After umpteen seasons of his silly Southern accent on True Blood, I expected a lot of overacting, but he overacted in just the right way. The only scene in The Sound of Music that I really like is the scene at the concert where he sings "Edelweiss" as an invocation of everything he loves about his homeland, which is now overrun by Nazis. It makes me emotional. And I thought Moyer pulled that off really, really well.

I like the idea of NBC doing stuff like this, trying to create TV events again. The Sound of Music isn't really my thing, but I see lots of people who liked it.

Melissa Rauch Monday

Not a new feature, but something I had to post.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Peter O'Toole 1932-2013

I just now heard that Peter O'Toole, the star of the film I consider the greatest ever made, passed away today. I'm sorry to hear it--and yeah, it makes me think about my grandparents who are pretty much the same age--but I understand he'd been sick. Thanks for the amazing body of work left behind; Peter O'Toole didn't always make great films, but he gave me some of the greatest performances I've ever seen. His Henry II in The Lion in Winter is some of the most exciting, alive, vital acting I've ever seen. Thanks for giving us so much.

Song of the Week: "A Christmas Carol"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #20: From one of my favorite albums, 1959's An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. I like the live version better than the recorded version, if only because in this one he sounds more knowing, winking at the audience like they're in on the joke rather than just being cynical about it. I always think of this song when people start going on the annual rant about how Christmas is too commercial and being cynical about shopping. I get it, but, guys, this has been going on long before any of us was born. Do you know when Macy's started staying open until midnight on Christmas Eve? 1867. Sorry, kids, but your faux world weary cynicism is just trying to light a candle that burned out over a hundred years ago. That's why I can't get too worked up over it; all I can do is just decide not to descend into what's already there and not go Christmas shopping.

Always Time for a New Muppisode

Cute stuff; Gordon Ramsay doesn't try to overplay it, and I guess the two kids are from the Disney Channel. Can not wait for Muppets Most Wanted.

Sunday Hottie 463

AMY POEHLER