Saturday, March 01, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 17

Honestly, I feel like I could just post the opening paragraphs and have done with this chapter:

The candle flame is too hot. It flickers and dances in the over-warm breeze, a breeze that brings no respite from the heat. Soft gossamer wings flutter to and fro in the dark, sprinkling dusty scales in the circle of light. I'm struggling to resist, but I'm drawn. And then it's so bright, and I'm flying too close to the sun, dazzled by the light, fried and melting from the heat, weary in my endeavors to stay airborne. I am so warm. The heat . . . it's stifling, overpowering. It wakes me.
I open my eyes, and I'm draped in Christian Grey. He's wrapped around me like a victory flag.
Holy shit. You fail creative writing. Unless, of course, this is all on purpose and you're doing some sort of postmodern comment on terrible fanfiction.

That was terrible enough. I was so tempted to just tell you that this is everything you need to know about this chapter, really. But then I remembered our traumatizing previous chapter, with its corrective rape scene and its drunken coercion, and, yeah, we've got shit to talk about.

But hey, hurrah, Christian slept overnight with you, so, you know, that's something, I suppose.

(It isn't.)

"Christian Grey spent the night with me, and I feel rested. There was no sex, only cuddling."

You mean after the sexual assault? Excuse me, sexual assaults.

:: Alright, so Christian has to run off to a meeting, which means, of course, an endless email exchange between the two. Now, this shit is another important example of why I hate this book so much.

Ana sends Christian an email with the actual subject line "Assault and Battery: The After-Effects." She opens with "You wanted to know why I felt confused after you--which euphemism should we apply--spanked, punished, beat, assaulted me. Well during the whole alarming process I felt demeaned, debased and abused [...] I was shocked to feel aroused." She also confesses that these conflicting feelings make her uncomfortable and even guilty.

Now, this is something she should really be discussing with some kind of mental health professional. This can be very confusing for someone. She feels conflicted. She felt violated after it happened. Violated and alone and embarrassed and uncomfortable in her own home and her own body. In other words, she didn't feel safe anymore. She didn't feel like herself. That's the kind of thing that can take a long, long time to process. Years.

Christian's reaction is predictable. He feels her subject heading is "slightly overstated" and says "I'll go with spanking--as that's what it was."

Nope, sorry. You were punishing her and you made absolutely sure that she knew that's what it was. That's why I used that term "corrective rape," because that's what he was doing: he was trying to correct her behavior by raping her as a punishment. Only, you know, without her real consent, so that's not a fun game, that's a terrifying violation.

He goes on to say "So you felt demeaned, debased, abused and assaulted--how very Tess Durbyfield of you." He's totally dismissive of her feelings and refuses to validate them, goes on to quibble over the meanings of words, and lamely (inhumanly) asks "If that is how you feel, do you think you could just try to embrace those feelings, deal with them for me? That's what a submissive would do." You know, because only his feelings matter.

He once again points out that she was aroused during it so... what? No harm, no foul, or something? Again, so we're clear: orgasm =/= consent. That's something people are traumatized by, sometimes for their whole lives: the guilt that comes with having a physical response to a sexual assault. Have you ever met anyone who you knew was sexually assaulted and also felt complicit in it because they responded in some small way? It's confusing and terrible. I have relatives with stories like that. So for Christian to keep reinforcing this point in order to make her feel partially responsible is monstrous.

"You need to free your mind and listen to your body." Go fuck yourself.

He keeps belaboring this point. "For the record, you stood beside me knowing what I was going to do." No, asshole, that's not how it works, especially when you're the one with the power. She had zero frame of reference. There's been no previous context for this in her life. She doesn't know how to be a sub because she's not a sub. She doesn't like it. And you getting defensive about it isn't as charming as EL James seems to think it is.

"You're an adult--you have choices." Except that you're not letting her make choices. Christian barely gives Ana any time to think because if there's a second of doubt she might wise up and break off contact. Oh, she might not sign the contract? Time to rush to her apartment! Oh, she wants to discuss the terms of the contract? Better feed her alcohol! Oh, she feels bad about how I raped her? Better spend the night with her and give her a taste of that real relationship she wants that I'm dangling the possibility of over her head like a carrot, that'll shut her up.

Ana says "If I listened to my body, I'd be in Alaska by now." Christian's response? "I would find you."

Yeah, he's really all about letting her make choices.

The worst part is that Ana's response to this is: "He's right, of course. It's my choice."

Fuck you, EL James. Fuck you. You are not a good person. You are normalizing, romanticizing, and idealing the worst behavior of an Aggressive Narcissist for a legion of readers. You are telling them that when a man controls every aspect of your life, takes your consent and your choice away, and smothers you so you never have an instant of freedom, it's because he wuvs you.

:: "The Audi is a joy to drive. It has power steering." Never stop shilling, right?

:: "The problem is, I just want Christian, not all his... baggage." Well, standing around and hoping it changes is not going to solve that problem.

:: Christian sends Ana a BlackBerry because "I need to be able to contact you at all times." She resents it, as she usually does, but expresses this by having more of that banter that's supposed to be cute, even though she's passively-aggressively teasing him about being a stalker. *sigh* His need to control her is fucking scary.

:: "Generous, over-the-top bastard, isn't he?" Shut the fuck up, Kate.

:: Ana regarding one of Christian's emails: "I roll my eyes at it defiantly." Unfortunately, that's all you ever do.

:: Okay, what is the purpose of Jose in this narrative? They're hanging out again, and Ana is all swept away by how "refreshingly uncomplicated" he is, but I don't understand what he's supposed to represent to her. James treats him like he's supposed to be some sort of example of what men can be like when they're not abusive douchelords, but he still tried to shove his tongue in her mouth and she treats him like a pet, anyway, so what's the point of this guy?

:: Now, the email exchange from earlier pissed me off, but what pisses me off more is this moment. See, Ana ignores an email from Christian and goes and hangs out with Jose. Then she gets a phone message from Christian: "I think you need to learn to manage my expectations. I am not a patient man. If you say you are going to contact me when you finish work, then you should have the decency to do so. Otherwise, I worry, and that's not an emotion I'm familiar with, and I don't tolerate it very well."

So much to unpack there, and so much of it is so, so, so familiar to me. I know I've done this to people, and seeing it written out here makes me feel ashamed and uncomfortable.

I actually have a similar problem sometimes when I go to therapy, just to pick one of a hundred examples. I talked about it with my therapist on Thursday, actually. See, my way of thinking is that when a therapy session is meant to start at 1:00, we start at 1:00. We actually started at 1:09. If she's ever late, I get anxious and nervous. Why isn't what's supposed to be happening right now happening? By 1:04, I'm shaking and tapping my foot on the floor wondering what could have happened. By 1:07, I'm a basket case of anger and self-loathing. Oh, well, if this isn't important, who cares? She obviously doesn't care, so why don't I just leave and give up on therapy altogether? It's only important to me, but since no one's going to help, it doesn't really matter. I can live with it. Then it's 1:08 and I'm just guilty. Calm down, asshole. She didn't forget and you're just assuming, again, that no one cares what happens to you. Maybe she's talking down a patient. Maybe a superior pulled her into the office. Maybe she had an emergency phone call. But see: I always go right to the one thing that reinforces my schema: I'm too worthless for anyone to show up on time for.

It's a roller coaster of shock, anxiety and guilt that takes several minutes to recover from, and during those minutes, I can take out my discomfort on others without meaning to. It's an offshoot of how neglected and lonely I felt as a child, and it happens a lot. But here's the important thing: that doesn't give me the right to take it out on other people.

Ana, apparently, thinks it does. When she hears his message, she feels "suffocated" and is scared as she dials him back, worried about what his reaction will be. "He'd probably like to beat seven shades of shit out of me. The thought is depressing." A few pages ago, she was thinking angrily about what a "patronizing son of a bitch" he can be, and then immediately thought about how he was neglected as a child and felt sorry for him.

But that sympathy is unearned. It's very easy to feel sympathy for a child who isn't happy. But that sympathy does not--should never--extend to the abhorrent things an adult does. I was neglected and unhappy much of the time. Does that excuse me snapping at my therapist or my wife when my expectations aren't met or, heaven forfend, I feel uncertainty for a few minutes? No. Being broken inside does not give you a license to be an unrepentant dick to other people.

It is not society's duty to make your day better.

"Manage my expectations?" That's your responsibility.

Christian is being very abusive here. He worried for a second, so he's mad at her. It's her fault. And she internalizes it, accepts it, and is fearful about the consequences of it it.

And the abuse continues: when she calls, he's "crisply polite." He sighs and seems detached. "He sounds so sad and resigned." I recognize this. This is on purpose. I know, because I've done it, too. It's what you do to make someone feel bad about not lavishing you with attention and reassurance the second you needed it. It's a babyish, manipulative thing to do, and seeing this behavior mirrored by this evil, evil character hits me pretty hard. Because the reaction you should be having to this is not "Aw, he's sad, he needs wuv to redeem him," it's "Christ, what an abusive douche-nozzle."

It's passive-aggressive. It's tailored to make the other person feel like they let you down. And you can do it without realizing it, sure. But it's not sad for the reasons Ana thinks it's sad. It's just another manipulation from an aggressive, narcissistic psychopath.

:: I know this entry is getting longer by the second, but what is it with our pop culture right now and lovable psychos?

I ask this because EL James is setting this up so we can see how Christian is just a broken boy who can be redeemed with love. But what's so redeemable about him? Where's the good in him? Don't give me his philanthropy; that doesn't register at all, plus he's high-handed about it in a White Man's Burden sort of way. He's a rapist. He's abusive. People are obstacles or possessions to him, but certainly not fellow human beings. He's arrogant and manipulative. He has no empathy. He hides his need for control and his desire to hurt women behind a legitimate kink that he seems to barely understand. He condescendingly treats Ana like property that thinks it's people. His only redeeming factor, as we're told repeatedly, is that he's so goddamn good-looking.

That's it. That's all there is. I said this weeks ago: if he looked like Zach Galifianakis, he'd just be a pervert. But he's so sexy, we just have to make some attempt to understand him and give him the benefit of the doubt that his traumatic past is responsible for all his weird issues, and he just hasn't been loved enough to save him yet.

In other words, beauty = good. You know, the same way orgasm = consent.

Lady, I mean this with all the caring I can muster: go to hell. Go directly to hell.

It's another way that reading this book is like being on Tumblr too long. Jeez, look up almost anything about Loki on Tumblr. I saw someone get into a huge argument because "Aw, poor Loki, he's so sad and handsome and he's sorry his mother died so he's worthy of redemption," and when someone said no, he doesn't get to be redeemed, that same person flipped out and did the Tumblr equivalent of screaming because fandom is unreasonable. This other person did a great job of saying, no, Loki unleashed a horde of alien invaders on Earth and was responsible for all of that death and destruction in New York and Asgard and elsewhere simply because adopted daddy didn't love him enough, and you don't get redemption when you're a fucking mass murderer just because you have floppy hair and pretty eyes, it doesn't work like that. The fact that so many people attacked him for saying that shows the weird power of beauty = good. If Loki were played by Crispin Glover, no one would be having that argument. He's complex because you can understand his motivations; that makes him tragic, but it doesn't make what he does any less evil.

(Incidentally, these are the same people who are weird about Hannibal. You know, the ones who are trying to make mental illness into a fetish and insist that Hannibal's a sociopath because he cares too deeply, or some such shit, which is not how sociopathy works.)

It's this whole Darcy thing, I think, because he was such a bastard at first and was then redeemed. But you're misunderstanding Darcy. Darcy came across as a bastard because of his social difficulties. But he was always a good person with great qualities, like loyalty and love for his family. He often does the right thing simply because it's the right thing. His problem isn't that he's all broken and dark; his problem is his behavior, which is brusque, unlikable, and insulting. Lizzie calls him on it, and he changes his demeanor. He softens. Not because Lizzie loved him, but because she called him out on his rudeness. He redeems himself. He makes himself worthy of being loved.

Christian Grey? Nothing. There's nothing there. He's not a good person in any way.

Stop falling in love with psychopaths. You deserve better.

:: Meanwhile, Kate and Elliot are being demonstrative and gooey all the time, something Ana rolls her eyes at and gets annoyed by. Right. Because their relationship is the problematic one, I guess.

:: Listen to how amazing their new apartment is: "It's all solid wood floors and red brick, and the kitchen tops are smooth concrete, very utilitarian, very now." A mere inch later, Kate is "all tight jeans, T-shirt, and hair piled high with escaping tendrils." Whoa, it's like reading Proust, all descriptive and typed words, very manuscript, very printed matter.

:: Ana and Kate get a housewarming bottle of Bollinger from Christian, and Kate angrily wonders how he even knows their address. You're fucking his brother, Kate. Constantly. His brother knows your address.

:: Anyway, Ana goes over to Christian's place for their first Sunday, still never having signed the contract, and then he invites her to a family dinner and has a private doctor over for her exam because he's not going to wear any more condoms. Ana privately marvels over how much it must cost to get a doctor over for a private sesh on a Sunday afternoon, but come on, Ana, you've seen his apartment and his cars and his office, he takes care of his things.

Christian's apartment, by the way... she wants to make it sound very elegant, but EL James is such a bad writer.

Here, you deserve some eye candy for sitting through all of this bullshit. That's Alain Delon in a movie I watched yesterday afternoon, La Piscine, which was marvelous. It's a beautiful-looking movie. So many French movies from the sixties have impeccable art direction. (Another great example: Purple Noon, also starring the beautiful Alain Delon.) Watch those movies and see what style and class really look like. And also complex characterization. And terrific acting. And... hell, just see those movies and fuck this book. Chuck it in the bin.

So, you know, a day after that movie, it's hard to care about James' vague descriptions.

Where was I? Oh, right: the doctor. The actual exam is in the next chapter, so there's your hook for next week, I guess. (By the way, that will be chapter 18 of 26, so we won't be done with this damned thing until the end of April. Because you demanded it, dear reader!)

Ana is nervous at having an exam in front of Christian. He says he won't be in the room but "I'd pay very good money to watch, believe me." Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Are you one of those people who gets turned on by medical procedures and wounds and stuff like that? Because ew.

Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

And hey, if you need help recognizing the signs of abuse or any resources for help with domestic violence, go here. Living in fear is not true love.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Muppets Are Doing a Sequel

Of course you knew that, but Disney still released this great video that serves as a preview for the movie and a sample of the opening number, "Sequel Song." The songs are again by Bret McKenzie, and this one's a real corker. March 21 cannot come fast enough. This and Veronica Mars are my reward for making it through this ghastly winter.

The Meme Museum

It's been quite some time--other than the year-end one--since I filled out a questionnaire. Here's one that's book-related that comes from Tumblr.

1. Your favorite book: A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes is still my favorite. Also Dune by Frank Herbert, The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, Damage by Josephine Hart, The Shining by Stephen King, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and many, many others. I've never really made a list of that, which seems weird, given all of the things I list. I could keep spilling them out now and never get on to the next question.

2. Your least favorite book: Certainly Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey were and are awful experiences.

3. A book that completely surprised you (bad or good): When I was in high school, I started reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels. They really took me by surprise, because I was expecting something similar to the Johnny Weismuller movies, which (besides a cartoon in the early eighties) had been my only real experience before that with the character. I fell in love with the books.

Another example: Ira Levin's A Kiss Before Dying. I didn't know what the twist was, and it floored me.

 4. A book that reminds you of home: Books I read when I was a kid, mainly, like the Oz books of L. Frank Baum or Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. Judy Blume, too; when I was a kid I read a bunch of her books. I used to stay in bed reading sometimes when I was depressed, even in grade school.

Also, a used to read lots of books on cryptozoology and UFOs when I was young, and thinking about those just reminds me of trying to sleep late at night, because I was scared and my parents wouldn't let me leave the light on.

5. A non-fiction book that you actually enjoyed: I don't like the tone of this question, because it sounds like its author doesn't really imagine that non-fiction books can be enjoyable. I just recently read two of them that I quite liked. My home is overflowing with them. History books, art books, collections of Harlan Ellison columns, books about the making of films, books about Disney... I think my favorite of these is probably The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan. And I. Asimov by Isaac Asimov. Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis. And... look, there are a lot.

6. A book that makes you cry: Lots of them have at various times. You know me, I'm emotional, I'm mentally ill, I cry easily. I cried reading that Jim Henson biography when Jim died. Certainly LOTR and the last Harry Potter novel did. I'll tell you the first time I can remember crying while I read a book. It was some Baby-sitters Club book that I read in grade school.

Just for the hell of it, I looked it up. It was called Kristy and the Snobs and it came out when I was 11. My sister Jayne used to like those books, and I ended up reading some. Anyway, that's the one where Kristy's dog is sick and dies, and they have a funeral for it. That was a time when I really started getting depressed a lot, because my friends had turned on me and my parents were separating. A sick dog on top of that was too much for me.

7. A book that's hard to read: Fifty Shades of Grey is like being bludgeoned in the brain by a sub-moron with a thesaurus.

8. An unpopular book you believe should be a bestseller: That's a stupid question. I don't have any stock in what others read. I'm not hung up on what's popular or isn't and what should be and all that jazz. I'll tell you what: I read a book in 2012 that should absolutely be a bestseller, it just hasn't been published yet. It should be a bestseller and a movie, js.

9. A book you've read more than once: I've read The Hobbit a few times over the years. Also The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

10. The first novel you remember reading: Charlotte's Web by EB White. I read that on my own the summer before first grade.

11. The book that made you fall in love with reading: I can't say for sure, though Charlotte's Web is a possibility. I've always been a big reader, since I was a very little kid. I don't even know that I'm in love with reading so much as I've just never considered the possibility of not reading.

There's this thing online now where everyone's in love with reading or at least in love with the idea of hanging out with a lot of books. I don't know anymore if it's supposed to be a status thing or a hip thing or whatever, and I don't really care. I don't want this to come across as one of those "Pssht, I don't even own a TV" riffs (which, by the way, is a lot less impressive online than you think it is), but it's just in my nature to read.

12. A book so emotionally draining you couldn't complete it or had to set it aside for a bit: I honestly can't think of an answer here, and I'll tell you why: because it's so hard for me to get into books that are funny. Well, not hard, but... I have to be alone and I can't bother anyone with it, because of things I've internalized over the years about how obnoxious I am or how loud my laugh is or how people don't want to be bothered by my idiotic sense of humor. I got enough people telling me to be quiet and not bug them when I was a kid that I find it hard to let loose with the laughter now, so I don't often have that release of pure laughter.

I do, however, for whatever reason, consider it okay to cry, which is odd, because that makes people more uncomfortable. So if a book gets really emotional, I stick with it, because that's a catharsis for me.

I'm sure those books exist, but it's hard for me to remember a lot of things.

Two years ago I read The Bell Jar in an afternoon, and it was emotionally devastating, but it was also cathartic because I thought it was one of the best depictions of social detachment and mental illness I'd ever read.

13. Favorite childhood book: Oh, I like lots of books that I read as a kid. I think probably either the Oz books (my favorite was Ozma of Oz) or The Chronicles of Prydain. The Prydain novels had such an effect on me as a kid. I also love William Kotwinkle's delightfully strange ET the Extra-Terrestrial novelization.

14. Book that should be on a high school or college required reading list: I think most of the books I would think of already are, and, honestly, it's not for me to say. I think it would be nice if, during the period when young people are forming their own opinions and having their beliefs challenged, they would read Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

15. Favorite book dealing with foreign culture: What an unexpected question. Maybe EM Forster's A Passage to India. Julian Barnes' Arthur & George deals with racism in an unexpected and surprising way.

16. Favorite book turned movie: Question rejected for being far too vast to answer. Lots of my favorite movies are based on books. Off the top of my head, I think Brokeback Mountain is as excellent as the story it's based on. So is Rosemary's Baby.

17. Book turned movie and completely desecrated: I don't care. I don't like these kinds of questions, because I'm tired of watching people so butt hurt by an adaptation they didn't like, mainly because it didn't agree with their interpretation of whatever. It's so subjective, and a terrible adaptation doesn't hurt the source material. I think people who are concerned that it does hurt the source material are really just worried, in a snobbish way, that some other imagined person might see it and like it "the wrong way" or see it and not like it and not read the novel because of it. I'm less interested in what other people think about a movie, which is just the easiest thing in the world to ignore. Yeah, some movies miss the point of their source material, but for me it's about whether the film works on its own. I hate when an otherwise-decent movie puts in things that are totally extraneous simply because "that's how it was in the book."

18. A book you can't find on shelves anymore that you love: I don't know. The important thing is that it's on my shelves.

19. A book that changed your mind about a particular subject (non-fiction): For some reason, this is the only example I can think of: When I was in junior high and going through my Beatles phase, I absorbed the "Yoko broke up the Beatles" drumbeat that's always so popular. But after reading The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon & Yoko Ono by David Sheff, I could see how much they loved one another and how much she meant to him. She meant more to him than the Beatles did, and that's where his heart was. I'm glad I read it then, because it made me think about what's more important in life: what you do, or who you do it with.

20. A book you would recommend to an ignorant/racist/close-minded person: That question assumes an arrogance I don't have. I don't think I'm better or worse than other people, and I don't know that telling someone to read Huckleberry Finn or Their Eyes Were Watching God is a solution to anything. Generally ignorant/racist/close-minded people see their beliefs reinforced in anything.

21. A guilty pleasure book: Ugh, you know how I feel about the concept of guilty pleasures. Right after high school, I dated a horrible person (horrible for other reasons besides this) who used to hide her Stephen King novels in the cabinet part of her bookshelf because "I don't want someone to see my bookshelf and think I don't know how to read." Even at 17 that struck me as irredeemably snobbish.

If you want to make fun of me for any book in my collection, I'm not the one who should be embarrassed.

22. Favorite series: Probably the Tarzan books.

23. Favorite romance novel: Depends what you consider a romance novel, I suppose. I never read any of those bodice-ripping Harlequin books that my aunts were always into. I like Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, which I read in high school, and which is kind of a romance novel. There are romances in the Harry Potter novels, and I like those. I have no idea. Julian Barnes' Talking It Over is fantastic, but it's not really a romance novel. Nope, no idea.

24. A book you later found out the author lied about: I'm not really sure how to answer this.

25. Favorite autobiographical/biographical book: I. Asimov by Isaac Asimov and pretty much most non-fiction written by Harlan Ellison.

26. A book you wish would be written: My own fantasy novel that I've written down parts of over many, many years.

27. A book you would write if you had all the resources: Same. I have a lot of barriers psychologically that have to do with my anxiety. It can make it very hard to concentrate.

28. A book you wish you never read: Oh, even the awful ones give you something to think about. Example: Fifty Shades is actually making me reassess some of the things that have happened in my life in regards to abusive behaviors and social problems and at least one failed relationship I've had. That said, I could have gone my whole life without reading John Knowles' A Separate Peace. Do they still make high schoolers read that?

29. An author that you completely avoid/hate/won't read: Well, seeing Bill O'Reilly's name on anything is not going to make me read it.

30. An author that you will read whatever they put out: Not a lot of contemporary authors that I'm so into, although I'm up for whatever JK Rowling wants to do next, even though I didn't care for The Casual Vacancy. I'm starting to dig John Green, too. There are still contemporary authors I want to read and just haven't yet. And anything by Julian Barnes. Everything by Julian Barnes.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rowlf the Dog Gets Ice Cream

This cute spot is a video for Toyota Highlander's Muppet campaign, but what it really sold me on is the ice cream. Damn, I just want to go to Dairy Queen after therapy today. Sure, the wind chill today is -16 (we're actually under a wind chill advisory for the next few hours), but I've got the heat on and damn, that ice cream looks good.


UPDATE: Ice cream accomplished.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

G Is for Ghostbusters 3

Despite Harold Ramis dying earlier this week, Ivan Reitman is trying to forge ahead with the long-discussed, totally unnecessary third Ghostbusters film.

I talked about this in a couple of posts back in 2010, and my feelings haven't much changed. Back then we were all talking about how Bill Murray didn't want to do it, and how he seemed to feel (probably correctly) that the fans would paint him as the bad guy for not wanting to make another one. (That led to MC's great comment that "Bill Murray doesn't owe me, you or anyone a thing.") There was some talk then of Venkman dying in the first reel and then coming back as a ghost, which was a clever idea.

But let's say Bill Murray still doesn't want to do it. I'm not enthusiastic about the idea of a Ghostbusters movie without Murray, but I just plain don't want to see one without Harold Ramis. Yes, Dan Aykroyd is the creator, but so much of it was refined and shaped through Ramis' humor. And doing a Ghostbusters movie without Egon... why?

(Someone brought up the idea of using Egon's ghost instead of Venkman, which would have been a clever idea if Ramis were still alive to do the voice. Apparently, he'd been sick since 2010, so it probably would've been an ideal solution. The people bringing up this idea now don't seem to realize that doing it now would be in incredibly poor taste.)

Ernie Hudson had this to say: "There can't be another Ghostbusters without Harold. There could be another ghost something but there won't be. That was always my fear. That something would happen before we all got together."

Sounds like Hudson doesn't want to do it, either.

Now, I guess they could do something with a next generation type of thing. I know a lot of people don't want to see that, but I've never hated the idea, because it would basically be a live action version of the old Extreme Ghostbusters cartoon. I actually don't have a problem with watching Jay Baruchel or Jason Segel or Chelsea Peretti or whomever running around as Ghostbusters. You put Aykroyd in the mentor role and you pass the baton and make your own movie.

Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg are apparently still involved, but how many drafts of this script can you honestly write without writing it to death? And why those two? Apparently the failure of their Year One (which Ramis directed) is part of what torpedoed this project five years ago. I kind of agreed with my wife when she said this morning "If Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg aren't writing it, who cares?"

Look, you can't recapture the magic that made Ghostbusters one of the greatest movies ever made. I think Ghostbusters II proved that. And with Ramis' passing, I think it's time for Dan Aykroyd and Ivan Reitman and Sony Pictures to just let this one go. At least Aykroyd hasn't said anything, and Hudson only did because he was accosted by TMZ. Talking about this now, as the Hollywood Reporter did, is pretty insensitive. Just let it go.

Frankly, you kind of lost me back when everybody was going nuts about "You can't make Ghostbusters without Bill Murray!" and "You can't make Ghostbusters without Rick Moranis!" and I wondered "Why isn't anyone saying that you can't make Ghostbusters without Sigourney Weaver?"

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

In case you've been wondering, we're in the final week of Turner Classic Movies' annual "31 Days of Oscar" celebration. Every year they've done it--and it turns out it's been 19 years, so where the hell does the time go?--I've always wanted to sit and watch lots of movies I've never seen before. And then I haven't done it. This year, I finally did. I didn't get to watch everything I wanted to, but I've seen--and will continue to see, because there's a few more days and still a lot on my TiVo--a number of movies I've "always" wanted to see and never made time for. (And for all that I've listed here, I've watched twice as much, because I've also been watching movies that I've seen before but my wife never has, in some cases leading to a total reassessment of my feelings for them.)

That's why I've been seeing so damn many movies lately, and it's been a lot of fun. It seemed like the perfect time, since I'm not working and can't go anywhere.

THE SEARCH (1948)
Montgomery Clift as a GI in postwar Germany who meets a child displaced by the camp liberations. The kid is an Auschwitz survivor who can barely speak and--because he was imprisoned so young--barely has memories of his mother. The whole first 30+ minutes of the film play like an informational film about what the Nazis did to children, and it's very hard to watch. Meanwhile, as the kid tries to get used to freedom, his mother is searching for him. It's a very emotionally powerful movie that took me by surprise. I got the horrifying idea that some of the children in the film weren't really acting so much as remembering, but I can't really find any information about that. Well worth seeking out. ****

THE IDEA (1932)
Fascinating (but admittedly slow-moving) animated film by Berthold Bartosch about the creation of an idea. The idea inspires men to revolt and is suppressed by business interests, but never quite forgotten. Based on a wordless novel by Frans Masreel, it's a deft and beautiful piece of animation, though ultimately tragic. It conveys very accurately the feeling of futility in attempts to make change. ****

HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON (1957)
John Huston film about a Marine (Robert Mitchum) stuck on a small island with a nun (Deborah Kerr) during World War II. He falls in love with her as they evade the Japanese and hope for rescue. Good-looking movie, but it kind of left me cold. I thought Deborah Kerr was quite good, though. Then again, my wife loved it, so what the hell do I know? **1/2

CROSSFIRE (1947)
Mitchum again, this time in a message picture that's filmed like a noir. It's about an anti-Semitic soldier who murders a Jew, and the investigation to discover his crime. It doesn't create a lot of suspense and gets very message-y, but I liked the style and some of the performances, particularly Robert Ryan (who is downright terrifying) and Gloria Grahame, whom I am incapable of not liking. ***

STALAG 17 (1953)
This is one of those flicks that's always been in the back of my mind to see, but I never took the time, mainly because I didn't know what to expect and William Holden isn't exactly one of my favorite actors. Turns out I've missed a great picture all these years, but I sure had fun watching it now (and Holden was great in it; hell, he won the Oscar). It's a great drama about GI's in a prison camp who are certain there's a mole in their midst, and decide it must be Holden, because he's only out for himself. But this drama is surrounded by a lot of great humor and funny, human moments. I only thought of Hogan's Heroes part of the time, but it wasn't distracting. The film was just too damn good. Otto Preminger's performance as the Nazi Commandant was very interesting and regal; I love the business with the boots when he's on the phone. I know Billy Wilder's one of the greats, but he can be hit or miss for me at times, but this is one hell of a hit. Great, great movie, a real pleasure to watch. ****

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945)
I have to admit, this is the kind of movie I don't see very often, from an era of films I don't visit as much as others. In this film, Gene Tierney meets novelist Cornel Wilde, becomes obsessed with him, marries him, and does some pretty terrible things to keep him all to herself. It's a weird, bizarrely intense film, with everyone sort of acting at one another. It works, for the most part (although I thought the trial was a little too over-the-top; wouldn't any court have recused the district attorney in a murder case if he had once been engaged to the victim?). It's a great looking movie, though; the sets are gorgeous, and so is Gene Tierney. And so is Jeanne Crain, playing Tierney's adopted sister. It didn't completely click with me, but it's definitely worth seeing. ***

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #17

"Defeated by Doctor Doom!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(August 1963)

The Fantastic Four's previous adventure left us with a cliffhanger; the FF drove Doctor Doom out of Sub-Atomica and back to his normal size, and while things ended happily for Princess Pearla and the rest, the FF still have the specter of Doom hanging over them. Where has he gone and hidden himself, and how will he try to exact his revenge?

Even though this is a kinda sorta two-parter that kinda sorta left us in the middle of the action, I love how Stan & Jack set up this second half with their tried and true FF formula. After bidding Ant-Man farewell and thanking him for his help, and after a flashback recapping the events of the previous ish, we get a lot of the usual banter and science experiments and fighting back and forth. Naturally, Reed wants to start searching right away for Doctor Doom, and his response to that is to turn on radar system that's "extra sensitive to human flesh covered by steel." You're reaching with this one, Stan.

Johnny attempts to use sonar heat waves to track down Doom, and Sue follows some shady characters only to found out that they're testing out a children's toy. Ben, meanwhile, falls in a manhole chasing a caped figure on the street, only to find...

That is a beaut. Every time some wacky super villain heads out on the street and starts pontificating or a monster shows up and stands around, some bystander asks if it's publicity for a movie... and this time, for once, it was! Ya been robbed, Ben!

(Side note: Ben Grimm and Anastasia Steele use the same expressions.)

Well, the search is pretty fruitless, so the Fantastic Four do what anyone would do in their situation: go back to their social calendars.

Yes, Sue, we "might as well." A technothriller version of Hitler is running around on the loose, but we might as well all get back to our lectures, dates, concerts and dinners. I admit, you look pretty gorgie in that dress, and your hair is fab. But Johnny... aren't we all glad kids don't dress like that anymore?

The Four are mobbed in the Baxter Building by fans, so a janitor takes them out a back entrance, and that's when Doom strikes. Doctor Doom is actually the old janitor in disguise, and in shaking hands with each member of the FF, he's managed to place tracker "idento-discs" on them so he can harry them with these truly creepy robots that float and are apparently also intangible. The robots don't actually do anything, they just float around, being annoying and disrupting things with how annoying they are. It's the FF equivalent of tying a balloon to a cat's tail. Reed figures it out and finds the idento-discs, destroying them. Doom, monitoring them from a hidden location, declares phase one of his plan complete. At first, it seems like the lamest thing in the world to gloat over, but this is Doctor Doom! Of course there was more to it than that.

First, though, Doom decides to strike at the FF through their weakest link: the Thing! Well, technically he says it's Alicia Masters; he kidnaps her and carries her off to his newest hiding place--a floating laboratory hidden by clouds generated from the vehicle itself.

With Alicia prisoner, Doom has effectively hamstrung the Fantastic Four; they're fighting among themselves as Doom makes demands of the White House to surrender the country to him. Once again, Doom stands on the precipice of victory, and it actually seems attainable. This is why he's the greatest comics villain of all time; Doom isn't so powerful that he's unbeatable, but he's smart enough that the reader can't always see through his plans.

For example: those floating robots. They seemed like a really lame prank, right? Turns out they were actually transmitting a printed circuit of the exact atomic and molecular body structures of the Fantastic Four. And why? As part of an elegant defense system for his floating lab. See, he knew he'd never be able to keep his lab concealed from Richards forever, so he rigged up a defense made of disintegrator rays that are tuned to the FF's very bodies. If any one of them tries to breach the lab, the disintegraor rays detect them and zap, it's all over.

So what didn't Doom count on this time? Benjamin J. Grimm.

That's right; Doom doesn't know that it's possible for Reed to produce one of his serums that, however temporarily, will turn Ben back into a normal human: the disintegrator rays are programmed to recognize the Thing. And in a very nice bit of plotting, the team member that Doom used to put the Fantastic Four on the sidelines is the exact same team member who is the key to victory.

The scene where Ben, in a magnetically-powered one man plastic bubble (just go with it), sails past Doom's defenses is one of the best pieces of storytelling we've seen in the Marvel Universe so far. Ben begins to revert back into the Thing before he's reached Doom's lab, and you can almost feel the struggle as Ben, with all of his strength, seems to will himself not to become the Thing for as long as he can hold out.

And when he does land, he is pissed.

He's madder than we've ever seen him, and he proceeds to tear Doom's ship apart. The rest of the FF gets on board and, in typical Stan & Jack fashion, each go their own way to face Doom's death traps. Reed stretching thinner and thinner to navigate through oxygen pockets inside wet cement is an especially nice touch. Doom also attempts to use energy spheres to surround the FF and literally transport them to another dimension! He is not mucking around this time!

It's Sue, however, who finds Alicia and frees her, and then faces Doctor Doom on her own. She holds her own well, and it's a thrilling moment to see her finally fighting back! After all of the book's protestations that she was integral to the team, it's nice to see her actually get a moment where we're being shown her value. She gets in a few good hits, and Doctor Doom has to pull out a heat gun to stop her, before he's interrupted by the others. Doom's on the ropes but good, and, defeated, opens a hatch and literally jumps out his floating lab, plummeting towards the ground... and he disappears in the clouds. Hey, he survived jumping onto a meteor to escape the FF once, this is nothing. We'll hear about how he survived next time.

But for now, that was one hell of a great issue.

Stray observations:

:: Sue was heading out in that red dress to pose for a US savings bond poster ad. Reed, meanwhile, was getting an honorary doctorate. What's their status? I mean, are they actually together or is she still making up her mind? I figure if she was his girlfriend she'd want to be with him at his ceremony, but maybe not. She does have her own life.

:: This issue features cameos by Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy's hair.

I love that these comics take place in the real world.

:: In the letters page, Donald Markstein (he of the indispensable Toonopedia) is glad that there are no teen sidekicks in the Marvel Universe, active fan Ron Foss (whom you may know from the original Alter Ego and The Cartoonist) echoes the feelings of a number of readers that Al Hartley wasn't the best artist for Thor, and former FF hater Paul Gambaccini, in another long letter, proclaims "The Fantastic Four vs. the Red Ghost and His Indescribable Super-Apes" no less than "the best comic book story ever printed."

Stan also teases the return of the Hulk (by fan demand!), a Strange Tales annual that will team Spider-Man and the Torch, and announces that Fantastic Four Annual #1 is coming. In fact, that's the next FF story I'll talk about here, and brother, is that one of my all time favorite comic book stories. "So, till next ish, read our mags, read our competitors' mags, but READ! It's one of the greatest pleasures of all!"

Especially when the comics are as good as this one is!

Next Marvels: Thor vs. Thor! You'll be Thor-y to miss it!

First Banner of 2014

Basically I'm just so tired of looking at snow and feeling the cold that even my banner has to come down. Here's a new one for a while. You know, until another Kristen Bell one takes it place. You know it's going to happen.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Harold Ramis 1944-2014

I'm saddened to hear today that one of my comedy heroes, Harold Ramis, has died suddenly at the age of 69. I was 8 when Ghostbusters came out, a movie I saw a dozen times in the theater alone. That was a movie my Dad and I bonded over, and so was Groundhog Day, one of a few movies my Dad and I both loved and watched repeatedly together on cable at a time when, post-divorce, I didn't always feel comfortable at my Dad's.

Thanks for all of that and so much more, Mr. Ramis. Thanks for SCTV and Caddyshack and Animal House and Back to School and Ghostbusters: The Video Game and even just showing up sometimes on my local WGN news and all of the countless hours I've spent laughing. Thank you so much. I'm so sorry you're no longer with us, but I will always be glad that you were here.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dakota!

Today in examples of the relative way in which we experience time: that little girl that I found so adorable in the miniseries Taken turns 20 years old today. Damn; that miniseries feels like it happened just a couple of years ago, but it actually aired in 2002... holy shit. I've been a fan ever since. Happy Birthday, cutie.

Song of the Week: "So Alive"

Songs for Becca #4. My wife grew up loving college rock, goth rock, etc. Music I was never really that exposed to, so it was like exploring a whole new world when we got together and she started making me mixtapes. I did remember seeing the video on MTV a bit. She counts Bauhaus among her all time favorite bands, and she followed three of its members over to Love & Rockets, and she turned me into a fan. (She has this weird thing where she thinks I don't like any of her music, but I actually quite like Love & Rockets and I really love this song.)