Saturday, January 11, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 10

Note: Sorry to be so late with this one today; about mid-morning my internet shut off and wouldn't come back on. By the time I finally got it back in the early evening, after hours of dealing with tech support, I had a pounding headache. But now we're back on the air, as it were, so here's this week's awfulness.

So: Christian's mom shows up.

He gets up quickly and puts on his jeans--"no underwear!" which weirdly shocks Ana like it's the naughtiest and strangest thing she's ever seen anyone do, because apparently she lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with only [classic British literature] for company.

She's seriously having a panic attack about meeting his mother, and can't concentrate because Christian is just so very, very hot. "His beauty is derailing." Ugh, fuck off. She's worried about her clothes, and he tells her "Anastasia, you could be wearing a sack and you'd look lovely," which I'm surprised to see from a woman author, because in my experience, women don't find that to be the grand compliment that men seem to think it is. Christian then straight up threatens her with "I will expect you in that room in five minutes, otherwise I'll come and drag you out of here myself in whatever you're wearing." Which is what a controlling, abusive ass says, but come on, in front of his mother? Bull fucking shit. Tough talk, little man.

"Holy shit. Christian's mother. This is so much more than I bargained for." THIS IS?

Then there's a lot of blah blah blurgh about Ana's hair and trying to dress up and look presentable but, you know, she's such an ugly goblin, but hey, at least her shirt survived the night without any creases, you guys, and seriously, these are two paragraphs you could just lop right out of it.

Christian's mother Esme Grace Trevelyan-Grey is "impeccably attired" and "groomed" and "elegant" and the usual EL James vagaries because good descriptive writing is really hard, you guys. Grace is happy to meet Ana and actually quite warm towards her, but soon Ana has to answer the phone because Jose is calling. Remember Jose?

"Dios mio! Ana!" he says, because he's the only non-white character, and non-white people say shit like "Dios mio!" all the time, I guess. I've known a number of Latino people in my life, and exactly one of them said things like that in casual conversation, and EL James is only doing it to just shove in your face that he's the one non-white character in the book, in that way that bad authors do when their only contact with Latinos is in old Speedy Gonzales cartoons. It's just... trite.

Jose again: "Where are you? I've been trying to contact you. I need to see you, to apologize for my behavior on Friday. Why haven't you returned my calls?" Well, let's figure that out, asshole. How about because you tried to sexually assault me outside a club when we were both drunk? Maybe that has something to do with it. Ugh. I hate Christian Grey for a lot of reasons that have to do with bad, boring writing, but to be fair to James, I despise Jose because he's exactly like other guys I've known. You don't have to see her to apologize to her; you can apologize to her now. You're not entitled to her presence just because you want her in front of you when you apologize for being a drunken sexual predator. In fact, I would argue that that's the reason she shouldn't be alone with you. He's one of those Nice Guys who feels entitled to her attention because he's been so nice to her and patient with her and assumed he would eventually get to sleep with her as a reward for being so nice. Fuck you, Jose.

(Also, does it bother anyone else that the only person of color in the book is not only whiny and entitled, but also characterized as a sexual predator? Why are all the men in Ana's life so far sexual predators?)

"Are you with him?" Jose demands, and Ana ends the call, but the damage is already done as far as Christian is concerned. His mother leaves, and then Christian--angry that she was even talking to Jose at all--ignores her and takes more vague business calls where he says things like "shipment" and "Darfur" and "Charlie Tango" and "air-drop" because they sound kind of important-ish, but EL James is clearly uninterested and incapable of writing about them with any verisimilitude. And now Christian is just angry, cold and distant, where before he had been boyish, charming and warm, and he's still making her feel like it was her fault that she was nearly raped by her friend and making her feel bad for being drunk in the first place, like it reflects badly on him or something. And apparently he decides this is the perfect time to go and get her the contract and tells her to read it over and research it on the internet... but get this: Ana is a college student in 2011 and apparently doesn't actually own a computer.

How... how are you even alive? How much of a shut-in are we supposed to believe future cat lady is? How the fuck does she even write her papers for class? She says she has access to Kate's laptop, but two girls sharing one laptop... and one's a journalism major... wha?

Then she wants to call Kate, but he's all pissy because he thinks she wants to call "the photographer" back. "'I don’t like to share, Miss Steele. Remember that.' His quiet, chilling tone is a warning, and with one long, cold look at me, he heads back to the bedroom." Wow, he's so sexy in his aloof cruelty. How romantically cold and distant of him. And we're back to this part of the abuse cycle, where he's got to make her scrape for his approval again.

This behavior is so manipulative. He's displeased by her simply having contact with the outside world, and he's going to make her feel like shit for displeasing him. It's just creepy and a bunch of bored housewives are romanticizing it. Controlling who your partner talks to is not okay. This is another in a series of red flags, but every time there is the promise of possible violence and the presence of emotional abuse, then Christian does something charming and Ana feels like she's so lucky that he's even interested in her and she just melts because occasionally he does something nice or wears a leather jacket and looks all hawt. Seriously, that's what happens here: he wears a leather jacket to drive her home, and she thinks "He looks like a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, maybe a badly behaved rock star or a catwalk model. I sigh inwardly, wishing I had a tenth of his poise."

Fuck you, Anastasia Rose Steele. Just... fuck you.

Then he tells her to stop biting her bottom lip "or I will fuck you in the elevator," because behavior modification disguised as romantic bullshit is his thing. (He seriously has a hard-on for making her feel like everything that happens is her fault, like a typical abuser.) And then she says that she needs to be able to talk about sex with Kate while not divulging too many details because she just has no frame of reference, and he actually rolls his eyes at her concerns. Seriously, this guy does not care about you as a person. He begrudgingly gives her permission to talk about her questions about sex with her best friend, but says that he doesn't want his brother Emmett Elliot finding out what they do in bed, and then we get this little exchange:

"The sooner I have your submission the better, and we can stop all this." "Stop all what?" "You, defying me."

Are you fucking kidding me?

This is not how relationships work, even relationships that involve BDSM. Because he's not talking about her being submissive in bed, he's talking about having control over her in every single aspect of her life. He is literally talking about how much better it's going to be when he has total control over her and doesn't have to be bothered with her petty human curiosity and feelings. This is not romance. But it's not like she has time to give it any real thought, even though she should be fucking horrified by what he's saying, because omg he loves his Audi R8 Spyder, so cute, boys and their toys, "it warms my heart."

Then they drive along for a while, and it's all very boring. He plays Bruce Springsteen ("Gotta love Bruce," he says, something which I find weirdly unbelievable for this character; I mean, Patrick Bateman loved Genesis and Huey Lewis, although Bruce, like Christian, is a rich guy with pretensions to blue collar humility, so what do I know?) and "Boy, this car can move," she thinks, like she's in a product placement deal or something.

Then he's all "You must eat, Anastasia," because he has that weird thing about eating, and they pull into this "rustic" chalet in the woods where they're served whatever the proprietors hunted and gathered that day, because this is all so interesting and we have to spend every moment with these two fucks. Oh, and he makes her drink Pinot Grigio; when she says she wants Diet Coke, he's actually very short and annoyed with her, but then he cocks his head and smiles, and omg so cute, you guys.

Oh, and Christian explains that Mama Grace was so happy to see him with a young lady because she's never seen him with a woman before and was worried he was gay.

Because gay people are incapable of happiness, I guess.

Seriously, what is with this author and her weird fixation on the possibility of a man being gay as somehow being weird and dark? This is the hundredth fucking time it's been brought up that Christian might possibly be gay, but only the first time when he hasn't been angrily offended by the suggestion. Now he's just amused at how his mother was apparently very worried that he might be gay, because apparently that's like not even having a soul or something.

But then he's gushing about how this is a weekend of firsts for him--first woman to meet his mother, first time having "vanilla sex," first time sleeping with a woman, first time having sex in his own bed, first time flying a girl in his fucking helicopter, and "What are you doing to me?" Christ, this just seems like a manipulative act.

The big revelation at this boring and unnecessarily detailed luncheon is that Christian was apparently seduced at age 15 by one of his mother's friends, and then was secretly her submissive for six years. And I'm not sure how I feel about this revelation.

See, this is obviously statutory rape and sexual abuse. It's a crime. It's illegal. And it's an adult using their position of authority over a teenager to take sexual advantage of them. That's not a relationship. It's wrong. It's not a romantic thing, okay? It's abuse. Taking advantage of someone by manipulating your position of authority is about the shittiest thing I can think of to do to someone, especially when that person literally cannot give legal consent to it.

But where I have mixed feelings is in the way EL James is using this piece of information. Since she's incapable of imagining a healthy relationship that utilizes BDSM and roleplaying--she thinks this kind of thing is just irretrievably dark and the domain of people with severe, even monstrous, psychological issues--this bit of Christian's past is used to show that he's continuing a cycle of abuse that he learned when he was younger.

Ana even recognizes that what happened to Christian was wrong and abusive, and that this experience is where Christian gets his ideas of what constitutes a relationship. He equates wanting to order her around and control her with romance, and it makes her uncomfortable. But that says to me that EL James sees BDSM on its own as inherently abusive and wrong; she doesn't make a distinction--because she apparently can't imagine that there is one--between abuse and consensual play. So she's made it very clear that Christian gets his fucked up ideas of romance from being abused as a teenager, and that what he wants to do to Ana is abuse. I'm also worried that what this is supposed to do is just make Christian more tragic, to excuse some of his controlling behavior because he just doesn't know any better, and that just makes me sick. I don't have any sympathy for this devil. And I don't know if I have sympathy for Ana because she's still mulling over the possibility of being his knowing full well that this is what their relationship will be like: abusive, controlling, one-sided, and cut off from talking about it with the outside world.

And then Christian goes back to his abusive asshole self, getting angry with her for not eating enough, and then refusing to go up to her apartment when he drops her off because, hello, he's not interested in the relationship part, Ana, figure it the fuck out. For her part, you'd think someone was ripping an organ out of her body, she's so sad at having to leave him, even for a few days. And oh, tee hee, I'm wearing your underwear, I'm so naughty, and Christian is shocked she has on a pair of his boxer briefs, because a guy who engages in the most elaborate SM not imagined by de Sade is going to be shocked by a girl wearing men's underwear, I guess. Ooh, you so naughty, Anastasia.

Then Ana has to "deal with" Kate's concern, and even though Ana wants to talk to Kate about sex, she's still so combative and cagey about it. I fucking hate the way Ana treats her best friend like this annoyance she has to get around. She acts like talking to Kate is such a fucking chore. Now, granted, Kate has a tendency to act like she's Ana's keeper and is solely responsible for making sure Ana doesn't open her mouth in a rainstorm and die like a turkey, but Ana, through her almost Muppet-like naivete, has sort of put Kate in that position by leaving her in charge of everything. Being combative towards Kate's genuine concern for her friend is just beyond bitchy.

Then they talk about sex and how apparently rare it is for females to ever have an orgasm during sex and there's a strong, uncomfortable implication that only men can give you an orgasm, ladies, so don't go touching yourselves or anything like that. Apparently Kate had a "horrid" first time in high school with some "dickless jock" (which, if he was dickless, no wonder the sex was so bad) whom she calls "the gutless wonder" and is so glad that Ana found someone "who knows his ass from his elbow" because EL James has a great ear for how college girls really talk in the 21st century.

Another telling moment about how Ana sees Kate: Ana is thrilled to get interviews for internships at the two publishing houses she applied to, and Kate says, with supportive congratulation, "I told you your GPA would open doors, Ana." Then Ana tells us that Kate already has an internship lined up at a newspaper because "Her father knows someone who knows someone." That's just the kind of irredeemably catty bitch Ana is, and she's just so casual and earnest about it, too. Yes, Ana; things happen for you because you worked hard, but Kate just has the right connections and doesn't even have to be good at anything, I guess. Fuck. You.

Then Ana calls Jose, who begs for her forgiveness, which she readily gives with a "Just don't do it again" and a reminder that he's like a brother to her and she doesn't feel that way about him. Then he immediately starts badgering her about her relationship with Christian. "'So you're with him now?' His tone is full of disdain." Jesus Christ. He even asks her if she wants to be with Christian because he's rich, and he gets all whiny (author's word) and full of "petty jealousy" which Ana doesn't want to deal with. But he still is very hopeful about still being friends with her, which says to me he still thinks there's a chance for romance, which she should just shut down right now, because you two are just not going to make it as friends. This is one of those situations where he's eager to remain your friend because he still thinks that one night, when you're drunk again, he's going to be able to kiss you and you'll just magically be in love with him, too. This is not someone you should be hanging around with, because the awkward will get out of control, and then it's just going to be a lot of hurt feelings and stalking and awfulness. Shut it down, Ana. It's okay to shut this down, because you're under no obligation to respond to his advances just because he really, really likes you.

I also don't like that when Ana tells Kate that Jose "made a pass at me on Friday," Kate's response is "Jose? And Christian Grey? Ana, your pheromones must be working overtime." Way to blame the victim, Kate.

And then it's just a lot of dry talk and eating lasagna and Ana wondering how Christian can be so boyish and cute and soulful and irresistible but also so broken and tragic and cold and she's so sad because he was abused by this woman as a kid and does she really want to walk away from him because holy shit orgasms are so awesome, you guys.

The next chapter promises to be a doozy, because we're going to get to read the contract. Whatever happens, I feel like I can guarantee that it's going to be long and terrible. And hopefully hilarious. But definitely exhausting.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #93

"The Mysterious Radio-active Man!" by Stan Lee, Richard Bernstein, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(June 1963)

What can I say? It's another Bernstein issue where things just happen because the plot requires it.

Here, Thor fights the Red Chinese army, stopping their invasion of India, where Dr. Don Blake is helping with medical aid. It's kind of fun seeing Thor bat away missiles and catch tank shells in mid-air. Then he chains the empty tanks to his hammer and throws them into Indian custody, and you kind of roll your eyes. Too much.

Mao Tse Tung himself takes this as a personal affront and demands his scientist rid the world of Thor.

He's not named, but that's Mao. I'll give Bernstein this: he doesn't write the pidgin English dialogue for the Chinese. That's refreshing. We still have that ghastly pale yellow skin coloring, but it's a step.

To defeat Thor, the Chinese scientist Chen Lu goes to another mainstay of this era of science fiction: radiation. He bathes himself in it, somehow gaining radioactive powers instead of, say, just melting. How did he do it? No one will ever know: he even destroys his entire lab so no one else can do it. Mao is impressed, and they send Chen Lu, the Radioactive Man, to New York to do battle with Thor.

I do think it's a great touch that, after being smuggled through international waters in a submarine and shot into the harbor in a torpedo tube, the Radioactive Man actually makes a point of "brazenly" walking through customs just to show everyone they can't stop him.

There's actually a bit of a moral dilemma about his arrival, in that Dr. Blake is in surgery and can't just drop it to rush out and turn into Thor to fight the Radioactive Man. It's a bit undercut because Radioactive Man literally just stands around and waits for Thor to arrive. He doesn't actually conquer anything, he just waits.

And then Thor can't really fight the guy, because--as the Radioactive Man helpfully points out--he would explode with the force of an H-bomb. So Thor just sort of stands there helpless while the Radioactive Man hypnotizes him and tells him to throw his hammer away. Thor throws it too far, so the Radioactive Man has to go off chasing it and isn't around--apparently no one is--when 60 seconds pass and Thor turns back into Blake, who then rushes off to his office and just, on the fly, whips up some kind of x-ray machine that can monitor a ten mile radius and shows him, on a video screen, that Thor's hammer is lying at the bottom of the Hudson River.

Sigh. This is what I mean by things just happening because of plot requirement. This machine comes out of nowhere, is barely explained, exists in one panel, and then we'll just ignore it.

Then Blake gets the hammer back, turns into Thor, creates a cyclone to hurl the Radioactive Man back to China, and then the Radioactive Man hits China with the force of an H-bomb and explodes.

So, yes, apparently Thor nuked China and we're just never going to mention that again.

Next time: Pandora's Box is opened.

Stew

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Mindy Kaling's Elle Cover

So, Elle decided to go with four covers for its "Women in TV" issue, and these are the four covers they came up with. What a lot of people immediately seized on, of course, is that Mindy Kaling, as the only person of color, for some reason appears in black-and-white instead of in color.

I think that's an important point and it should be commented on.

What I've seen fewer people comment on--and what I think we should also keep in mind--is that Mindy Kaling is a curvy lady, the only one of the four who isn't skinny at all. And she's the only one who basically gets a close-up?

It's a beautiful picture of Mindy, who is a stunner, but give me a break. What does Elle have against curvy, colored women? And why put one on your cover if you're going to do everything you can to obscure her like that?

Film Week

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

INSIDIOUS (2010)
Fun, engrossing horror flick about a poltergeist and paranormal investigators. I don't really have anything to say about it other than "It was a lot better than these movies tend to be these days," which I know doesn't sound like a compliment. It is what it is, but it is very effectively that. ***1/2

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (2013)
Just a touch less engrossing than the first one, mainly because--like a lot of horror sequels--it takes a few too many steps away from its horror premise into action movie territory. But I thought the way the film winds in, around and through the events of the first movie was remarkably clever. ***

DEATH AT A FUNERAL (2007)
Finally managed to see the original version just before Netflix dropped it. And I'm glad I did, because it's wonderful. One of the few real gems of Frank Oz's directing career. ****

BLINDSIDED (2013)
Wretched suspense thriller that is not suspenseful or thrilling, with Michelle Monaghan badly attempting to Sandra Bullock her way through as a blind journalist being menaced by a hilariously fey Michael Keaton and the guy that ruined Revenge so they can find some stolen diamonds in her apartment. Really awful, very poorly made, but it can't be overstated just how bad Michelle Monaghan is in this movie playing a blind woman. Her eyes are always focused, and sometimes she just looks at stuff and the director either doesn't notice or doesn't care. It's hilarious. *

ADMISSION (2013)
Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are engaging, and Lily Tomlin's always good, but it's just kind of a shrug of a movie. Indifferent to its own drama, the movie is too light where it needs to be more grounded, making the whole thing distant and not very memorable. Still waiting for that great Tina Fey movie to happen. I hope it does. **1/2

AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (1966)
Sad, stunning Robert Bresson film about the parallel lives of a donkey and a young girl in the French countryside. A lot of it is about suffering; it's very minimal and naturalistic, but also a kind of spiritual allegory about cruelty. It's powerfully emotional; I'm still thinking about it, but sort of trying not to, because it really is a very sad, but very honest movie. ****

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

80s Revisited: Popeye

Popeye (1980)
Directed by Robert Altman; screenplay by Jules Feiffer; produced by Robert Evans.

I'm still not even really sure how or why this movie happened. But it sure does waste a lot of talent. And time. This movie is a joyless, pointless waste of time that seems to have no reason to exist.

Seriously: what was the impetus for a live action version of Popeye? Why was it decided Robert Altman would be the best director to make it? Why did Altman agree to do it in the first place? I appreciate the way the film tries to split the difference between the cartoons and the original comic strip, but this is one of those movies that tries to be all things at once and ends up being nothing. Everything is played as a personality quirk, but the movie has no personality. It has some performances that are technically very good--I particularly liked Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, Ray Walston as Poopdeck Pappy, Paul Dooley as Wimpy (but I like Paul Dooley in literally everything, probably because he's always good in everything), Richard Libertini as Geezil, and Bill Irwin doing physical comedy as Ham Gravy--but the movie isn't really interested in things like characters or humor or story. A bunch of scenes just sort of happen, and in the end everyone decides that's enough and rolls the credits. The actors are more than capable of creating the characters from Thimble Theatre, but Altman as director seems more interested in just stuffing the frame with these overreacting caricatures who are always moving around busily but not really doing or saying or feeling anything.

Seriously, I just watched this last night, and I can't tell you what actually happened in it. I'm still shaking my head trying to figure out what the point of this thing existing the way it does actually is.

Robert Alman being Robert Altman, the cinematography emphasizes wide shots and muted backgrounds with almost no establishing shots or action, which keeps everything at a distance, as though the film itself is too good to deign to be about what it's about. Except for sequences like Olive Oyl singing "He Needs Me," Altman doesn't really get close enough to the characters to let us into what they want. Robin Williams is the worst offender, but most of the cast members are honestly just mumbling and muttering most of the time, which is fairly accurate to the Fleischer cartoons but an absolute impediment to telling a story--especially one that runs two hours.

And why are there songs? The Harry Nilsson songs are okay, but it's like Altman doesn't really want to use them; the songs just sort of begrudgingly hang there, like Altman is making some kind of anti-musical to punish the audience. There's no narrative point of view. People just walk through the frame. But hey, at least they spent a lot of money building a little town in Malta, so they really approached this thing from the right angle. The costumes are drab. There's barely any color in this movie. I'm just listing complaints now, because there's nothing in the way of a story to criticize.

I think someone could take the exact same script and songs and make something vibrant and at least fun. I would feel a little more charitable towards this movie if it had at least tried and then failed. But this movie seems so apathetic to itself, so indifferently made, that I'm a little hostile towards it. How could anyone have ever thought people would be pleased to spend two hours with this? It's so visually unappealing that even the act of looking at it is depressing. It's a weirdly alienating movie and it's driving me crazy that it even physically exists.

But hey, if you've always thought the one element Thimble Theatre needed was off-putting realism, this is the movie for you. I don't understand you, but I'm glad there's something for you.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Song of the Week: "Cold Weather Blues"

This Muddy Waters performance--from the great Folk Singer album--pretty accurately describes how my body is functioning right now in this cold weather. Currently it's 6 degrees in DeKalb and snowing hard, but with the wind chill, it feels like -15. We're already hearing reports of roads that have been closed because they're impassable. The low tomorrow is going to be -18, but with the wind chill added they're saying it'll feel like 45 below. The high's not going to be much better: -15. I hate it here. Take it away, Mud.