Saturday, January 18, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 11

So: the contract.

The first 10 pages of this chapter are all contract, written in stupid faux-legalese, which is basically talking in a circle and never getting anywhere. It's... not hilarious, exactly. Well, not on its own. It is kind of hilarious that a grown person wrote all this and thought it sounded, you know, hot or something.

Also, given what we already know of Christian--and what we've seen of his Rules--I'm pretty much forced to think this whole thing is a pack of lies. Let's start off with the lies right away: "The fundamental purpose of this contract is to allow the Submissive to explore her sensuality and her limits safely, with due respect and regard for her needs, her limits and her well-being."

As the kids say, lol, no. Because here was the first entry in the Rules: "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."

So... what you're telling me is the whole point of this arrangement is to let Ana explore her sensuality and limits in a safe, respectful way, where she does whatever Christian tells her immediately without complaint? Okay, it doesn't work like that. Especially with a person who just had sex for the first time and has no idea yet what her limits are. The language of the contract says that Ana is exploring, but the language of the Rules says that Ana just has to receive what's done to her with no backtalk. So which is it? We're allowed to discuss it or not?

None of this is about what Ana wants, anyway. Christian can go on all he likes about "There's just something about you specifically, herp a derp a derp a derp," but really he just needs a body, and preferably one that isn't going to question his rule.

The contract also throws in the little safety net that everything that happens between them is "consensual," which kind of scares me a little. I mean, that's a trap, isn't it? I mean, by the terms of the contract--combined with the increasingly-idiotic Rules--she's basically being forced into a position where she's basically agreed that everything is consensual, even when it's not. I'm expecting a lot of "Hey, you didn't have to sign the contract," arguments.

Another gem: "Any breach shall render it void with immediate effect and each party agrees to be fully responsible to the other for the consequence of any breach." Do you think that Ana thinks this contract could be legally binding in any way? I bet she does. We already kind of fought a war over whether or not it was legal to contractually own other human beings, and the pro-ownership side lost. I would love to see the last third of this novel be something where she tries to take him to arbitration and the retired judge is just sort of mystified that someone in 2011 thinks that they're actually bound by the terms of a slavery contract.

This contract goes on forever. It's as dry and uninteresting as a real contract, so even when idiots write contracts, they're still boring. It's ludicrous, but boring. It specifies that the term of the contract is three months with an option for renewal, and that she's really only supposed to be available to him from Friday night through Sunday afternoon, with other times to be agreed on, which is kind of hilarious, because if there's one thing you don't need to throw into a BDSM agreement, it's a place where things are vague and ill-defined. Oh, we'll just make up this part as we go along, I guess.

The contract also specifies that he'll pay her travel costs, which seems like another piece of idiocy. You don't want anything where someone's going to construe prostitution.

Here's one of my favorite clauses: "The Dominant shall make the Submissive’s health and safety a priority at all times." Ha ha ha ha! That's cute that you think so. So far, his only interest in her well-being has been making sure that some other guy doesn't fuck her first and ordering her to eat because of his weird, controlling food hang-up. There's a difference between making someone's health and safety a priority and just having another way to control a person. More manipulative shit from a manipulative shit heel.

The contract, by the way, stipulates that either person can walk away from this arrangement if it becomes too much. Do you think Christian's going to let that happen? I mean, we remember the abuse cycle, right?

There's a lot in here about how Christian is supposed to take care of her and stuff, but the language makes it pretty clear that Ana is basically property by the terms of the agreement. Right here: "The Dominant accepts the Submissive as his, to own [emphasis mine], control, dominate and discipline during the Term. The Dominant may use the Submissive’s body at any time during the Allotted Times or any agreed additional times in any manner he deems fit, sexually or otherwise [emphasis mine because red fucking flag]." Otherwise? What otherwise? Although, remember the Rules: Christian can punish her whenever he wants to for whatever reason he wants to in whatever way he wants to and he doesn't even have to tell her why he's doing it. That's how they break kids down at those horrible camps where they think they can torture teenagers into not being gay anymore. This is like a how-to on brainwashing. Can't wait for EL James' romance novel about a prisoner and her torturer at Camp X-Ray.

If you've read this far into the book and you're still thinking this is romantic, I'd really like you to stop and reconsider.

And the thing about the Rules--which the contract stipulates she follow--is that this is not just about play guidelines. This is about controlling all aspects of her life. That's fucking slavery. Fuck this contract, and fuck the Rules. Things aren't consensual just because you've forced your partner to agree beforehand that they are, no matter what happens. That's just trying to make someone feel like they're responsible for their own abuse because they've "agreed" to it, and that's what a monster does.

"The Submissive accepts the Dominant as her master, with the understanding that she is now the property of the Dominant, to be dealt with as the Dominant pleases during the Term." Nope. That's not how consent works, and it's not how Dom/sub works. This is abuse hiding behind a legitimate kink. (For more on this, here's an article about consent in the world of BDSM that Roger forwarded to me a couple of weeks ago. What someone like EL James, who hasn't done any actual research, doesn't understand is that the thrill of this kind of play isn't hurting someone, it's in someone being willing to surrender themselves to you. That's something you respect and nurture; it's about an unconventional way of caring about someone else. There's a lot of ethic and respect that goes into it. You don't force someone; they give themselves. It's a gift. Some guys just don't get it and think they've just found a way to hurt other people because something inside of them is so broken that they need to hurt other people. Those guys tend to find situations in life where they can abuse their power over someone else, no matter how limited that power is.)

Here's a run-down of some of the stuff that bothers me in the way the contract stipulates the Submissive role and what Ana is and isn't supposed to do:

:: Birth control is her responsibility.
:: She's not allowed to touch herself ever because, ladies, only a man can give you an orgasm.
:: She has to submit to whippings on a whim and without hesitation.
:: She has to submit to any sexual demands he makes on a whim immediately, so if you don't like it in the butt, too fucking bad, because this is all about respect and well-being.
:: She has to accept any punishment whenever and without being given a reason.
:: Hey, he agrees not to share her with another Dom, so I guess he cares about her in some small way after all.
:: She has to always call him "Sir" or "Mr. Grey."
:: She's not allowed to touch him.
:: She's not allowed to look him in the eye. Ever. She has to always have her eyes cast downwards and keep "a respectful bearing." THIS IS NOT A RELATIONSHIP WILL YOU GET THAT THROUGH YOUR THICK HEAD?

And the one that actually pisses me off the most is that she has to "remember her status and role in regard to the Dominant at all times." Fuck. No. What this means is that no matter where she is or what she's doing, she has to remember that all of her behavior reflects on him. Except no, it doesn't. Especially since this isn't something that's going to be public. She can do whatever she wants when she's not with you, dude. That's just life. You're basically contracting her for a service, but also adding in that you own her and she can't burp without your permission. That's such bullshit. It's fucking ridiculous. Look, I know you're still pissed that she got drunk one time in her life and then puked in the street. We've all done things we're not proud of. But stop acting like she did that to you. He's exactly as immature as she is. Both of these people are idiots, and I'm always on the fence about which one I hate more, but really it's him, because his expectations are so ridiculous. She's naive and self-centered, and that sucks, but he's just an abusive dick.

So, to recap all of that section: Ana is not allowed to ever raise any complaints or concerns about anything Christian wants to do to her body or her mind.

Oh, but he agrees not to share her or leave any marks (evidence), so hey, what a pal.

If you've read this far into the novel and you want this kind of relationship, please re-evaluate your priorities in life.

There's an almost begrudging couple of clauses outlining safewords, and I can't wait to see how Christian completely ignores them because, you know, contract = consent, Ana.

Then we get a recap of the Rules and Christian's Hard Limits and now we get into his Soft Limits, which is basically a checklist she's supposed to fill out that outlines what she will and won't do, and it's kind of hilarious, because how does she even know? She just lost her virginity literally last night. They're also--to me, a known pervert--pretty tame. If EL James did any research, it was the most cursory kind.

Here's the first grouping--and sorry, here's where things get really graphic in terminology, but, come on, this is a book about the weird psychological hang-ups that fanfiction writers have about fucking: masturbation, cunnilingus, fellatio, swallowing semen, vaginal intercourse, vaginal fisting, anal intercourse, anal fisting. (Hehe, the spellcheck doesn't recognize "fisting.") All of that's pretty regular bedtime stuff, although you can count me out on fisting. Never appealed to me. We can have a lot of fun sex without me having to shove my whole hand up your vagina.

Next grouping: vibrators, butt plugs, dildos, other toys. Meh, pretty tame stuff. Even if you've never used any of these things, a decade on the internet has probably desensitized you to their existence. When is the weird stuff supposed to happen?

Next: bondage with rope, leather cuffs, handcuffs/manacles/shackles, tape or "other." I wouldn't recommend bondage with tape, honestly. And when it comes to rope, you need a particularly soft kind of rope. Be careful with that shit. And always, always have a pair of those shears that EMTs use, because they cut through almost anything. That's just proper safety.

It all continues in that vein: how she can be bound, where, blindfolding, gagging, what's her pain threshold (like she knows yet), and are you okay with spanking, paddling, whipping, caning, biting, nipple clamps, genital clamps, ice, hot wax or "other." Which, again, seems pretty par for the course for me. I don't know, doesn't seem dark or weird.

Ana, of course, is totally horrified. She can't even bring herself to read the appendix that's the approved food list, because that's a rare bit of detail EL James doesn't feel like bothering with because she can't imagine what healthy eating is any more than she can imagine what a healthy sex life is. For her, both are a source of terror.

But, of course, even with all of the reservations she has about not being able to look him in his "beautiful eyes--captivating, intelligent, deep and dark, dark with dominant secrets" and wondering when she'll ever see her friends if she has to spend every weekend with Christian, she's still thinking about it. It's bizarre to me that someone could look at all of that stuff about not having any consent and immediately get concerned about when she'll ever have time for her friends, but you have to keep in mind that Ana is deeply stupid.

Then she has to have a conversation with her subconscious and her stupid fucking inner goddess who I just wish would die slowly after being closed in a jar with no air holes. "My inner goddess is jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five-year-old. Please, let’s do this… otherwise we’ll end up alone with lots of cats and your classic novels to keep you company." Yeah, good advice, inner goddess: jump onto the first guy who ever gave you an orgasm, because he'll treat you like shit, but at least he's interested and will give you orgasms, because probably there's no sweet guy who will treat you wonderfully and also give you orgasms, and it's not like a woman can ever have orgasms on her own ever. That's totally well-adjusted.




Yeah, that was only half of the chapter, so let's breeze through the rest of it, because EL James gives us a great many pointless details, because you know this is a rich tapestry. Or at least very, very long.

Note: I read a lot of this out loud to my wife in a Frasier Crane voice. I recommend it.

So the next morning, Christian has a MacBook Pro delivered to Ana so she can research BDSM. Computers are apparently another thing EL James has no idea about. She probably thinks they're powered by ghosts and a wizard's spell. The guy delivering it is supposed to show Ana how it works, which seems like the exact opposite of what everyone says is so great about Macs. You're about to graduate college and you need to be shown how the computer works. You're about to graduate college in 2011, and you have never had an email address before? Bullshit. I call total bullshit on that. I went to college from 2001 to 2006, and 99% of how the college and your professors communicate with you is through email. When you go to college, the college gives you a specific email to use if you don't have your own. Every syllabus has the teacher's email address on it, and let me tell you as someone who has worked in a college in the department ordering textbooks, it is their preferred method of communication. YOU ARE A FUCKING LIAR ANA HAS TO HAVE AN EMAIL ADDRESS MORE THAN SHE NEEDS AN ACTUAL PHONE NUMBER.

I'm not casting aspersions or making judgments here, but EL James is 50 years old, so maybe she's not up on how actual colleges run and writing a novel about a 22 year-old virgin who doesn't know how computers work is maybe kind of ridiculous.

This MacBook Pro isn't even in stores yet, by the way. The guy who sets it up for her--which, by the way, it's a laptop, so it seems like he's probably mastered the complicated concept of "taking it out of the box and plugging it in"--actually seems angry and disappointed when she says she just plans on using it for email. Which is totally accurate, because every Macolyte I've ever met is like that. That gaping look and the implication of "God damn you, if you aren't using your Mac to watch videos and read blogs and calculate satellite orbits and cure cancer and try to discover the location of Atlantis all at the same time, you don't fucking deserve one" is absolutely my experience with Mac fans.

The Mac specs here are hilarious: a 1.5 terabyte hard drive and 32 gigs of RAM. What? What fucking laptop has a 1.5 terabyte hard drive? Granted, I don't have a MacBook Pro, but my Acer laptop from two years ago runs at 500GB. And 32GB of RAM? Lion takes, like, 4, I think. I could look it up on the freaking Apple website, but why bother, since she clearly didn't. Can any laptop even run with that much RAM? Is that even physically possible? Why do you even need that much RAM? This is... this is just stupid. Oh, but Kate, easily impressed as ever, says "That's next generation tech," so I guess we should all just be, like, really impressed, you guys.

(Also, does this constitute a gift in return for sexual favors? Just wondering. Still trying to figure out the hilarious legal ramifications of his contract and shit.)

(Also, she basically describes the computer as big and grey because this author can't describe what anything looks like.)

Then Ana and Christian email back and forth, where she thinks they're flirting, but really it just seems like he's telling her to do her research, and then he ends it with "Laters, baby," which totally sounds like something a person who once said "Well, to 'chill out,' as you put it..." would actually say. Christian still talks like an alien pretending to be a human being.

"I race into the shower, unable to shake my face-splitting grin. He e-mailed me. I feel like a small, giddy child. And all the contract angst fades." You need a whole team of psychiatrists.

Then she has lunch with Jose (where she has to explicitly remind us that Jose is Hispanic-American--her words--in that white person way of "Look, I know an ethnic fellow") and totally forgives him for his attempted sexual assault, which makes him grin, probably planning his next attempted sexual assault, because you said it was okay and that just encourages a person, so great move on that one, too.

Then there's more email and Christian gives her one of these ;) and she does an Oh my and you get the impression that he could throw her in the dirt and stomp on her and as long as he gave her a smile she'd be totally okay with it, because what's the point of having a self-esteem if no one's making you come?

And then she look up "Submissive" on Wikipedia. "Half an hour later, I feel slight queasy [her typo, not mine] and frankly shocked to my core. Do I really want this stuff in my head? Jeez – is this what he gets up to in the Red Room of Pain? I sit staring at the screen, and part of me, a very moist and integral part of me [emphasis mine, because Jesus, wtf] – that I’ve only become acquainted with very recently, is seriously turned on. Oh my, some of this stuff is HOT. But is it for me? Holy shit… could I do this? I need space. I need to think."

Here's the thing: Christian, if he were an actual caring partner, should be easing her into unfamiliar territory, building up slowly to things she's not sure if she wants. That's actually testing limits. But that's not what he wants--he wants to rush right into caning and nipple clamps. Look, if Ana's first response to all of that is to feel sick, it's probably not for her. There's nothing wrong with that. Either something feels good, or it doesn't. If you have serious reservations, don't go through with it. It doesn't mean something's wrong with you. We all enjoy what we enjoy, and as long as we all consent to it and it's not illegal, that's what life is.

Someone who wanted Ana's genuine submission would go slow, find her limits, and ease her into this kink.

But Christian's an abusive asshole who doesn't care about her feelings, so... I'm guessing that's not what happens.

The Longest Blooper Reel Ever

Because I don't think I've ever posted this before, because Muppets outtakes are the best outtakes in the world, and because you probably need a laugh after that terribly long 50 Shades post.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #42

"Trapped by the Red Barbarian" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Don Heck
(June 1963)

Another unremarkable Bernstein-scripted adventure, this time with Iron Man facing off against Soviet agents. The big bad here is an agent calling himself the Red Barbarian; he's another one of those commie characters who is painted in the broadest, silliest strokes possible, wearing a fur cape and always eating whole hams off the bone or drinking from goblets. He sends one of his top agents--a master of disguise code-named the Actor--to steal Tony Stark's plans for a pocket-sized disintegrator ray.

The Actor steals the plans easily, but his real discovery is the secret identity of Iron Man. He actually discovers fairly easily that Tony is Iron Man, but keeps the information to himself for too long. Iron Man actually cuts the Actor off in the Soviet Union, traps him, manages to destroy the plans, and then sets up the Actor as a failure... and the Actor is promptly executed for failure by the Red Barbarian before the Actor can reveal what he's learned.

That's pretty much the whole story.

Stray notes:

:: I found Tony's invention of a small disintegrator ray really chilling. He's actually envisioning a near future where one small ray attached to a jet can simply atomize an entire city as though that were a good thing. This kind of thing is why I find him so alienating.

Next up: Ant-Man's new origin, a re-tool of his series, and the wonderful Wasp!

Jim Henson: The Biography

I probably admire Jim Henson more than anyone else in the world. I've read so much about the making and history of the Muppets and other projects he's worked on, that it seems weird that it took this long--almost 25 years since Jim's death--to really get an in-depth biography of the man.

When I was a kid, nothing inspired me more than the Muppets. I was a kid who made models and put on shows with stuffed animals; I would spend hours creating dioramas and panoramas with my action figures, dreaming of a future career with Industrial Light & Magic or Disney or--the biggest dream of all--working with Jim Henson. I actually co-wrote and performed in a show with another kid in front of my second grade class; we did it like an episode of Fraggle Rock, with puppets and stuffed animals. (Incidentally, that was the same year I went to the Young Author's Contest and had two short books I wrote put in the school library; I still have them, with their library cards intact--you can see that people actually checked the darn things out!) (Also incidentally, I spent a lot of that year trying with action figures and stuff I made to re-create Jabba's Throne Room from Return of the Jedi--which I, dreaming of creating creatures, thought was the ultimate in special effects and creatures for the longest time. I was obsessed with it. Are you starting to see why I'm always so into aliens that look like something more than humans with forehead rashes?)

Anyway: the Muppets are pretty much the best thing in human history for me.

It was a pleasure to get to read this examination of Jim's origins, his inspirations, and his career. I think it really captures his spirit as both man and creator. I don't want it to sound like I didn't love this book--because I did--but I didn't feel that it really went into the "warts and all" depth that a lot of critics felt it did. It was an honest book, and the first one to really delve into Jim's problematic relationship with his wife. But I would've liked more insight into that, and into how he felt about the whole situation. But I think that's not really a fault of the book or of the people who contributed time and interviews to the project. Author Brian Jay Jones had a lot of access, particularly to Jim Henson's diary. And I think Jim kept so much of that stuff inside and didn't really talk about it with people--even his diary entries are minimal and understated--that we'll never really know how he felt.

The thing about Jim Henson is that people really liked him and don't have very negative things to say about him--and if they do, they don't want to talk about it. The other thing about Jim Henson is that a lot of that nice, gentlemanly image wasn't just an image; by all accounts, that's pretty much who he was. I would love to know how he found such placidity and appreciation for all of life inside of himself, because I have such trouble finding those things. The fact that he could live that way and translate his love of life and other people and the interconnectedness of everyone and everything is a rare gift.

This book captures that guy; the guy who didn't spend his time dwelling on disappointments or venting negativity. I think in that aspect especially--the aspect of focusing on the positive and making adjustments and choosing to be happy and make others happy--Jim Henson was a remarkable human being.

He's my hero. And I really like this book.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Is for Anxiety (A Health Report Update)

Grover's advice here is actually pretty good. When I can regulate my breathing better, I don't worry or panic as much. The problem with that right now, of course, is that I'm still shaken by the bronchitis. I'm not really sick anymore, but I'm still weak as a kitten and I tire easily, making walks and exercise more of a trial. Combine that with the thin, cold air we're getting right now and my ample weight, and I'm having real chest problems. (But, my Medicaid coverage was approved, so I can actually go to the doctor now if I feel I have to, which is one anxiety gotten rid of. Who knew anxieties could actually go away? Wasn't prepared for that.)

I haven't really been talking about my health here as much lately because I've been so caught up in feeling discouraged and unworthy and depressed. It's the hardest mindset to break out of, especially when I can't really go to the physical activity that keeps me more grounded. Really, the only thing that's been helping me feel better is just eating. And that's just because when I was at my sickest, I didn't feel like eating at all. This morning, we went to my favorite local diner and had the best pancakes in town, along with some fluffy scrambled eggs, some hot coffee, and some thick, smokey bacon. It was a great time; not only that, but the diner's having a trivia contest, and thanks to being a pop culture-obsessed shut-in, I won us 50% off our next meal. Little bit of a self-esteem boost there.

I hate feeling like I'm constantly building myself back up, but never really getting to the "up" I'm trying to build myself "back" to. It's so hard to get into a better routine, especially when I get distracted so easily. I called the suicide response help line at my mental health center for the first time ever on Saturday, simply because of tech issues I was having, which always, always derail me because they tip my financial worries over the edge. It's a vicious cycle of feeling like I can't get too relaxed because that's when the problems creep in, but not being able to solve or handle problems because I can't work, which leads to feeling guilty because I'm taking all of this time out for therapy, even though the therapy is supposed to help me manage my anxiety enough to eventually get back to work. I'm distracted easily because of the guilt and fear that I don't want to face, even when--or maybe especially when--they're irrational from a logical point of view.

Oddly enough, my therapist told me she was leaving the agency, which means I'll need to transition myself to a new therapist--and that's the one thing I'm not having any anxiety about.

She was worried I'd catastrophize the situation--or worse, personalize it as further validation of my schema of worthlessness--but I understand why she's moving on and, even though the grief that comes with ending an intimate relationship will probably be there at first, I actually don't feel abandoned or anything like that. It helps that the therapist I'm transitioning to is someone I already know (my therapist's case manager; she calls every three weeks or so to talk with me and check in on my progress).

What I've been doing lately to combat all of this is, well, breathing. Breathing and disengaging with my electronic distractions. I've started giving myself a time limit, getting off the computer by 11pm and then making sure to not get on my computer right after waking up, like I usually do. This way, I get to ease into the day. I sit and close my eyes and breathe slowly, in and out, and think about what I've got to do today (if anything). I think about my fears and my depression and try to make myself comfortable with them rather than trying to outrun them. It's not always successful, and I don't expect it always will be. But it makes it easier to face the day. And getting off the computer by 11 but not going to sleep right away gives me time to decompress from the distractions and the annoyances of the day. One of the best things I'm doing right now? Stretching before bed. I actually sleep much better that way. Just a half-hour or an hour of sitting, breathing, not focusing on that damn light from the monitor, and stretching out makes me ready to sleep instead of lying there, listing my fears, frustrated that I'm not falling asleep faster.

Rest is the key. The day is easier to face when rested. And I've spent years being unable to rest.

Rest and breathe.

ABC Wednesday

(Top image via.)


Film Week

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

You know, I think I got about halfway through this movie before I realized it was about the ABSCAM operation. Of course, I was a little kid when that was all happening, so it doesn't live in my memory so much. But really, I was just distracted by the production design, the great soundtrack, the costumes, and the excellent performances. I've said before: I find truly great, electric acting very exciting, and this is one of those rare movies where ever actor is just firing on all cylinders. Christian Bale is fantastic as a low level con artist who falls in love with a fellow con artist (played enticingly by Amy Adams) and who are content to just sort of be in love and run these scams that net them some money but keep them more or less under the radar of the law. Then they end up getting trapped by an overzealous FBI agent (Bradley Cooper, almost hypnotically manic) who forces them to help him entrap others, leading to a sting operation centered around the mayor of Camden, New Jersey (Jeremy Renner, excellent). And the wild card in all of this is Bale's neglected wife, the brash and brassy Jennifer Lawrence--and I swear I was ready to hate her, like I always do, but I have to give her credit: this is the first performance of hers I've ever liked, and I thought she was great in it. (It probably helps that the screenplay mainly calls for her to be obnoxious, which seems like her natural setting.) The performances are excellent (also here: Robert De Niro, Louis CK, Shea Wigham, Michael Pena and Elizabeth Rohm), the screenplay crackles, and hell, I've said it before--I think I've been saying it since 2007--but I think Amy Adams is the most talented actress of her generation. Just an excellent American film. I haven't loved a David O. Russell movie like this since probably Flirting with Disaster. That's a long time. ****

Well, it means well. The film is about addiction, mainly sex addiction, and while I appreciate that its characters aren't treated like sleazy perverts, I do find it annoying when movies like this try to go to a really dark well to set up the third act and then the thing they think of seems so mundane to me (this movie goes out of its way to equate wanting to engage in ageplay and light masochism with profound mental instability, which I just found insulting and needlessly hysterical). It also tries too hard to draw a parallel between addiction and being overzealous, and not all of the performances serve the material very well (is Gwyneth Paltrow's character supposed to be so unlikable?), though I finally get why people are talking up Josh Gad so much. To my surprise, as an actress Pink more or less steals the movie. The whole thing is just too neat, to pop psychology. **1/2

Some more of those great new Mickey Mouse cartoons, each one of them fun and hilarious. I love Donald Duck in Tapped Out, especially ("Watch the nachos!"), but having just been ill, Flipperboobootosis was probably my favorite in this batch. Nice to see Pegleg Pete getting an appearance! **** each.

SAVAGES (2012)
Oliver Stone's movie about love and drug dealers isn't bad, necessarily, it's just incomprehensible. To the point that I could follow it, I didn't care what happened. And it doesn't help that the leads are all supremely boring, particularly the film's narrator and main protagonist, the ironically named Blake Lively. Dullsville. *

All the elements are there, but the film doesn't click on any level. There's a real problem here where the filmmakers can't seem to decide if they're making an epic fantasy or a fairybook story for children, and since no one commits to the tone, it ends up too aloof to care about. The filmmakers also seem to think they're above the material, which mostly the same cliches you expect in something like this. The costumes and special effects are particularly bad; too cartoonish to take seriously, but too dark to be fun. Waste of a good cast, and only Ewan McGregor has any real life in him. (But he's a Jedi Master, after all; he's the only one who gets the tone.) A waste of time.*1/2

I read a few Judy Blume novels when I was a lad, but never Tiger Eyes. I'm kind of surprised there haven't been a bunch of Judy Blume movies by now, honestly, especially with such an emphasis lately on adapting YA fiction. This film--directed and adapted by Blume's son Lawrence--is kind of a refreshing surprise. It's a smaller scale film than a lot of coming of age dramas now, but it's better for it. I'm not saying it's not ambitious, because so much depends on the lead performance by Willa Holland. But it's nice to see a film about a teenager going through an upheaval that isn't so overdramatic and deals with things rather matter-of-factly. It's grounded, but emotionally sincere, and I liked it so much for that. ***1/2

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #109

"The Sorcerer and Pandora's Box" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(June 1963)

Well, another compressed Bernstein script, so you know, things just happen. The villain here is an eccentric old guy who lives in the Torch's neighborhood in a big, remote house. I have no idea why everyone just calls this guy "the Sorcerer," like that's an appropriate name for a recluse, but Robert Bernstein scripted it, so it's not like you're going to get an explanation. He's just eccentric and reclusive; eh, let's call him "the Sorcerer."

Anyway, the Sorcerer is sick of the neighborhood kids harassing him and sets his dogs on them, and after a harsh talking-to from the Human Torch, he just decides, eh, time for revenge on society. And the instrument of his revenge? Pandora's Box. Which is a real thing, which the Sorcerer just happens to have because it just happened to be unwittingly be sent to him with a shipment of antiques from Greece, because you know what, why the fuck not, guys, huh? Why not just have Pandora's Box be a real thing that just was sitting around in a room somewhere and accidentally sent to a collector in Glenville? Why not? Just go with it.

And hey, if you have access to Pandora's Box, what else would you do with it but commit crimes? Not even "make myself ruler of the world" crimes, but just robbing banks and stealing furs and jewelry and stuff. Because why not, man? Right? Just why not?

And then the Human Torch tricks him and welds the box shut and then it's over. No one cares.

Stray notes:

:: Boy, Fantastic Four really was the melding of two true talents, wasn't it? Because the FF makes a brief appearance here, and the Bernstein-scripted banter is no where near as unique or well-written as it is when Stan Lee writes it. If anything, this serves as a valuable example of that.

:: The best thing in this story is the various Kirby Monster representations of the evils in Pandora's Box. I don't care about the story at all, but the Kirby Monsters? Excellent. In addition to the one above, there are nine more.

Fantastic stuff. The rest of the issue's a total wash.

Next time: More Bernstein, more Commies, and also Iron Man.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted Commercials

I love these delightfully silly ads for Muppets Most Wanted that have been parodying the use of Twitter. First there was this one:

And now a second, Golden Globes-related spot:

I can't wait for the movie. Damn, between Muppets Most Wanted and Veronica Mars, I'm really, really looking forward to March.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Song of the Week: "Everyday"

I really haven't had enough Slade in this feature. They've really sort of been relegated to relic status on much of the internet, but just sit with a singles collection: these guys are one of the best bands of their era. The great thing about glam rock is that it borrowed and reinterpreted so much of older styles of rock--prefiguring the same thing punk music did later--that glam always tends to sound fresh and modern.

Of course, here I am, posting a sweet ballad rather than a thumping rock workout, but it's a damn beautiful song. I think I actually heard this on a commercial recently and thought, "Man, I need to hear that again. That's just a lovely little tune." So here it is. Have a nice Sunday. Slade, 1974.