An unexpectedly disorganized weekend, due to extra cooking and family visits, or I’d have gotten this done yesterday.
ABSINTHE (2010) was a Netflix streaming documentary I wouldn’t have watchined if it wasn’t getting yanked from the service. As it turns out, this is quite good, chronicling how a woman herbalist’s stimulant potion became a popular drink of artistes, then soldiers (“They put it in canteens in the belief it prevented infection.”) who then brought it home to the cafes of Paris (“Five o’clock was known as the ‘green hour.”). The movie tracks the outlawing of absinthe, which it sees as a forerunner of the Reefer Madness view of pot (wine vendors tying absinthe to sensational murder cases), through its return and the legal wrangles of getting it approved in the US as well. Minor, but interesting. “It took people several years to realize absinthe was once again legal in Europe.”
In THE FLAT (2011), a German family sorting through their late grandma’s possessions discover she and grandpa had a history of friendship with an SS officer that starts when Grandpa went with him to Palestine (“The Nazis wanted the Jews to leave Germany. So did the Zionists.”) and astonishingly keeps going post-war despite one of grandma’s daughters going to a concentration camp. This reminds me a lot of the American documentary Secret Daughter and the German drama The Nasty Girl as it explores the stream of denial flowing through the WW II and post-war generations (“Why is it third-generation Germans are the only ones to ask questions?”) and what to do about them (“Do you tell a friend that her father was a murderer?”). Good. “This is an individual Jew, he will have to go someday, but until then we can have interesting conversations.”
What a tangled web we weave, when first we marry to deceive—
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003) is the Coen Brothers film that reminds me the most of the great Preston Sturges, with George Clooney as super-divorce lawyer Miles Massey (“The Massey prenup gets its own semester at Harvard Law.”) who successfully thwarts Catherine Zeta Jones’ scheme to marry and rip off millionaire Edward Herrmann. When Massey tries to hit on her afterwards, he’s annoyed to find her falling for oil tycoon Billy Bob Thornton instead, then annoyed to realize how annoyed he is, but he’s no idea what’s reall going on. Great fun that would double-bill well with Clooney’s other look at an emotionally detached man in Up in the Air. Julia Duffy plays an LA divorcee. “Your honor, this is harassment—and to be frank, it’s still a little arty-farty.”
Preston Sturges THE LADY EVE (1941) stars Barbara Stanwyck as a card sharp who’s plan to seduce and fleece uber-serious millionaire snake expert Henry Fonda goes somewhat askew when she falls for her mark, then discovers he can’t forgive her shady past. Her response is to re-invent herself as the eponymous aristocrat in order to get her revenge (“I need him like the axe needs the turkey.”) much to the disapproval of valet William Demarest, father Charles Coburn and phony nobleman Eric Blore. Not my favorite Sturges (I prefer Palm Beach Story or Miracle of Morgan’s Creek) but the stars put it over (I’ve always had a crush on Stanwyck, and she’s delightful here). “Do you want to bring the walls tumbling about our ears? Silence to the grave—and beyond!”
A dying man lives long enough to wonder WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS? (1980), thereby kicking off a mystery as the man who heard the cryptic message teams up with duchess Francesca Annis to find out what the heck that means. I enjoyed the Agatha Christie novel this is based on and loved Francesca Annis in the Christie-based Partners in Crime (it is very weird to see her do Christie without co-star Ben Cross) but this adaptation didn’t work for me at all. John Gielgud plays the hero’s father. “She’s not the girl in the photograph.”
Every time there’s a new James Bond, you can count on hearing the same thing: This is the real James Bond. This is the hard-as-nails guy Fleming wrote about, much more so than any of those guys who preceded him. And so it was with Timothy Dalton, who took over from Roger Moore in The Living Daylights (1987). Like For Your Eyes Only, it’s another shot at getting back to basics.
The story. Bond is assigned to help Gen. Koskov (Jeroem Krabbe) escape to the West by killing an assassin out to stop him. when Bond spots the assassin, Kara (Maryam D’Abo), he realizes she has no idea how to shoot. He settles for shooting it out of her hands, thereby scaring the living daylights out of her (this part taken from the same-name Fleming short story).
Safe in England, Koskov warns that the new KGB head, Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) is going to heat up the Cold War, and provides a list of intelligence figures on the hit list. He’s promptly kidnapped, his handlers killed and the list destroyed. M assigns Bond to take out Pushkin, but 007 starts hunting Kara instead. When he finds her, posing as Koskov’s ally, he learns she’s Koskov’s lover and her rifle was loaded with blanks. With her unwitting help, Bond begins tracking the real villains.
We learn Koskov’s defection is an elaborate ruse. Koskov and his partner Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) have accepted a heavy down payment from Pushkin for modern weaponry to use in the Afghanistan occupation (at the time, the Soviets were the ones fighting the natives). They’ve invested the money in diamonds to trade for heroin; after they sell the heroin, they’ll have money enough to buy the weapons and a huge profit left. Pushkin’s figuring this out, so he has to die.
He doesn’t, of course, and the real villains do. At the film’s end, M and the Soviet General Gogol (Walter Gotell) watch Kara make her debut at Carnegie Hall (Bond gives her his own congratulations backstage).
The Bond. I like Dalton. He has the same hard edge that Daniel Craig brought to the character a couple of decades later. I also think my friend Ross has a point, that Dalton approaches Bond as an actor—not that he’s giving a better performance or a better actor, but it feels like he’s trying to flesh out his character some. He genuinely seems to have some affection for Kara rather than just seeing her as a new conquest (though tries seduce her before she knows his identity, so his affection obviously didn’t stretch that far).
His waiting until the end to sleep with her got a lot of attention when this came out (it was credited to the then-sexual fears about AIDS) but I think it’s exaggerated. He does, presumably, sleep with the attractive woman in the teaser, and he’s putting moves on Kara mid-film. I find it more noteworthy that it’s the first time Bond’s smoked cigarettes since (I believe) Diamonds Are Forever (Moore smoked cigars, but no cigarettes, IIRC).
Another interesting point is that when a minor official rebukes Bond for not killing Kara, Bond retorts that he doesn’t give a damn about his orders—and if M doesn’t like it, he’ll give in his resignation. I can easily see Connery or Moore refusing to kill in the same situation, but not showing the disrespect for authority (which becomes a bigger issue in the next film).
The girl. D’Abo is charming in the role, and follows the post Spy Who Loved Me trend of playing a much bigger role than the villains (Koskov’s personal hit man is a cipher, so there’s no Jaws or Oddjob to grab the spotlight)
The politics. As License to Thrill notes, this, like Octopussy, has lots of Cold War trappings (at one point Bond allies with the Afghanistan mujahadeen) but a post-Cold War spirit. The Soviets may be the enemy, but it’s the renegade Koskov and Whitaker who are really killing American agents. At the end, Britain and the USSR come together to watch Kara’s performance.
This was a great debut for Dalton. It’s a shame his next, much-inferior film, would be his last.
I liked JJ Abrams first ST movie. I was primed for STAR TREK: Into Darkness. I was disappointed. Not all the way through, but by the end it had tanked. And it only gets worse when I think about it.
First, the plot: Kirk gets caught violating the Prime Directive (which apparently bans even averting planetary destruction) and reduced to First Office under Christopher Pike. When Benedict Cumberpatch arranges a terrorist attack on a records facility, the Captains and first officers gather for a confab and Kirk realizes this is standard operating procedure—and sure enough Cumberpatch strikes again. Pike dies, Kirk’s first action saves most of the others and Kirk’s back in charge of the Enterprise. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) reveals the killer is hiding on the Klingon homeworld and sends the Enterprise to nuke him with photon torpedoes.
After Spock convinces Kirk they should bring him in for trial (infuriating one conservative), an away team goes down, gets almost killed by the Klingons until saved by Cumberpatch. He reveals himself to be Khan (yep the Khan) and surrenders to prevent firing the torpedoes—which it turns out contain his fellow genengineered superhumans in cryo.
Khan reveals Marcus thawed him out of cold sleep in the belief humanity had gotten too soft and a race of sociopaths could win the inevitable war Marcus hoped to provoke with the Klingons. Oh, and Marcus has built a dreadnought class starship, which now attacks the Enterprise. Khan and Kirk team up against Marcus (helped by his daughter Carol), then Khan turns on Kirk to free his people (after which he’ll begin a mass genocide against ordinary humans). In a role reversal of Wrath of Khan, Kirk dies restarting the Enterprise engines, Spock screams “KHAAAAAN” and then goes to hunt down Khan, who having failed to get his people back, plans to smash the dreadnought into Starfleet HQ. Bones discovers Khan’s healing-factor blood can revive Kirk, Spock captures Khan (who goes back into cold sleep with the others) and a resurrected Kirk warns us against militarism.
The minor problem in this is a shit-ton of plot-holes. Why does Khan hide out on the Klingon world? How is the Klingons are oblivious to federation starships on the very edge of contested space? How come Starfleet doesn’t notice starships dueling inside the solar system?
A bigger problem is the decision to remake Wrath of Khan at all.The whole point of launching a new timeline is to do something different: I had no problem with the use of Khan per se, but the blatant knocking off of key plot points from WoK was incredibly annoying, rather than amusing. And pointless: I could seriously contemplate Spock dying in the original (there was, after all, no guarantee we’d get an ST III) but Kirk in the new series? No way. And alt.Spock’s pain after two movies with Kirk pales compares to Kirk watching Spock die after they’ve known each other 20 years (plus Spock’s death in WoK tied into the theme of Kirk finally accepting Kobashi Maru—that sometimes he couldn’t save everyone).
And then there’s Cumberpatch. Fans have legitimately complained about taking a nonwhite guy (judging from the name) played by a Mexican actor and turning him into a white guy (there’s also complaints that Dr. Marcus has gone from the woman who built the Genesis device to the woman who gives us an underwear shot). It’s a valid point, but I admit I was more annoyed by his performance. He sneers, he talks down to people and that’s about it. Even when he talks about saving his people, there’s no real warmth. It’s not a very interesting performance (certainly less fun than Montalban’s swaggering ubermensch).
And while it’s a minor point by comparison, referencing the original Eugenics Wars was a bad idea. Because in this timeline they still took place in the 20th century and in case you haven’t noticed, that didn’t happen. That totally dragged me out of the film.
Maybe some people are right and in this series, all the even-numbered ones will suck.
SMASH wrapped up its run last month after a lively second season (first season reviewed here) that had both the creative team and the cast of Bombshell splitting up and some of them moving to an off-off-Broadway production, Hit List. Which then by the magic of backstage musicals becomes Bombshell‘s big rival at the Tony’s. This was actually a pretty clever move, as we have someone to root for on both sides in the final episode, which also wraps up most of the romantic plots, though leaving a fair amount of challenges if there’d been a third season. The big drawback to that is that assuming Derek and Ivy will work out looks like an awfully optimistic dream given what a tool he is (I imagine that would have been explored next season). Still, it was a fun run. “He may be in the closet, but his upper arms are so gay!”
I also finished the first season of the 1960s’ THE MONKEES last week, and lord, it amazes me that such a giddy, loopy show didn’t seem at all weird (IIRC) to my childhood mind. For those who don’t know, the show concerns the four members of the title rock group, struggling to break into show business while also coping with spies, cops, gangsters, kiddie-show hosts royal conspiracies and beautiful girls, plus such really oddball ideas as occasionally turning into the caped MonkeeMen in one or two episodes. All of it delivered with sight gags, illogic, music and breaking the Fourth Wall (“Peter, you can’t expect the writers to think of everything.”). Probably not to everyone’s taste, but certainly to mine. . “I used to be a has-been—now I’m back to being an am-is.”
More Alfred Hitchcock: SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) has “Merry Widow” serial killer Joseph Cotton hole up in a small town with his sister, only to have niece and namesake Teresa Wright begin to realize just how far this apple has fallen from the family tree (this vaguely hints at brain damage as the cause of his evil). This is small-town America a la Hitchcock, who does a remarkable job of creating an entire community around the family, with little bits such as Wright’s bookish younger sister and her father’s mystery novel-obsessed buddy (Hume Cronyn). Reminiscent of Fargo in emphasizing the gulf between decent people and the evildoers, particularly in the endbit where Wright and cop swain MacDonald Carey reject Cotton’s worldview. “You know what you do with animals when they’re too old and too fat to live, don’t you?.”
REAR WINDOW (1954) has photographer Jimmy Stewart bide his time recovering from a broken leg by watching the community around him (ballerina, sculptor, salesman, lonely woman, dog lover, etc.) while fending off socialite Grace Kelly’s push to make their relationship serious. Then Stewart gets the crazy idea salesman Raymond Burr has murdered his wife and when the police won’t listen, Stewart, Kelly and nurse Thelma Ritter decide to take matters into their own hands. While just as effective at evoking a community, this one here is watched voyeuristically at a distance (when one neighbor contemplates suicide, Stewart observes, but doesn’t try to intervene). Very good; the quasi-remake Disturbia would be a good double-feature. “If he talked long distance with his wife after she arrived, why did she send a postcard saying she’d arrived safely?””
Courtesy of a Hitchcock film festival at the Carolina Theatre, TYG and I got to see NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) on the big screen. A classic thriller in which an unfortunate fluke leaves Cary Grant looking like the secret agent infiltrating James Mason’s spy ring, forcing Grant to go on the run until he can figure out what’s really happening. What’s striking rewatching this is how leisurely it is compared to so many modern movies—long scenes without rapid cuts, very little in physical action (Grant does not show hitherto untapped abilities to perform like James Bond) and a lack of constant danger, but without ever being boring. With Leo G. Carroll as a spymaster, Eva Marie Saint as a pretty stranger and Martin Landau as Mason’s lackey, this has multiple memorable moments including an encounter with a crop-duster, the finalé on Mt. Rushmore and Saul Bass’s striking opening credits. Deserves every bit of its rep. “The trouble with attractive women is that I have to pretend I have no interest in making love to them.”
LEVERAGE wrapped up its final season as Timothy Hutton and his crew continue bringing justice to those beyond the reach of the law by employing classic scams and cons against them. The finalé reveals why Hutton shifted his team to Portland and what happens to the team after everything wraps up. This was a fun series, and I’ll miss it. “Justice or order—one day you’re going to have to make a choice.”
ELEMENTARY gives us a second present-day Sherlock Holmes series; where the BBC version present Holmes at his coldest and most calculating, Johnny Lee Hooker’s Sherlock is a drug addict on a self-destructive spiral since the death of his beloved Irene Adler. Enter Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), an ex-surgeon turned “sober companion” for recovering addicts (by the end of the series, she’s graduated to apprentice detective). Further from Doyle than the BBC version, but very entertaining in its own right. “Over the course of my career, I’ve plotted at least seven murders that took place in crowded restaurants.”
BIG BANG THEORY‘s latest season doesn’t change much (despite Leonard and Penny now being a definite couple)—they’ve got a formula set and they follow it faithfully. Whether the humor makes up for the sexism is a matter of taste—I still watch, even though I’m wincing often enough at the sexism (both toward the women and toward Raj for being, in the eyes of the writer, suspiciously girly). “I’ll keep that in mind, unnamed crew member in a red shirt.”
LORD PETER VIEWS THE BODY was the first of Dorothy Sayers’ two short-story collections in the series, and I must say, she doesn’t have the knack she does with longer works. At short-length, Wimsey’s silly-ass babble and eccentricities dominate things to the point the plot is buried, and they aren’t entertaining enough in their own right to make the stories work. Disappointing.
As a fan of Patricia McKillip’s, I was equally disappointed in her third novel, STEPPING FROM THE SHADOWS (I should mention I liked her first and second). This is her only mainstream work and her poetic style feels decidedly “off” here; a bigger problem is that it’s a coming-of-age novel (following a nervous pre-teen all the way through to adulthood) and I rarely find those interesting. Nor did it help that most reviews and the back cover present it as a magical realist fantasy, when it’s a perfectly mundane books (the supernatural elements are metaphorical and imaginary) and I really hate that.
Filed under Movies, Reading, TV
Redemption is a powerful source for story material. The fallen hero who tries to stop her fall, the villain attempting to rise, the tyrant or fiend who sees the light. It’s also damn tricky.
Redemption actually involves several inter-related things: Can you earn forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged? Can you prove to society that you deserve to be forgiven? And can you truly become a better human being?
Case in point: It’s a tenet of Christianity (subject to multiple interpretations and sectarian disputes of course) that if you sincerely repent your sins and turn to Jesus, you’re saved. Which is unsettling: It’s nice to know I can’t do anything so horrible God won’t take me back, but if someone murdered my family, I’d probably hate the thought the killer can get into Heaven.
Salvation in this case doesn’t have anything to do with secular, society forgiveness. Being saved doesn’t and shouldn’t get you out of prison, or community service or whatever it is that you’ve done. God’s justice and our are separate things (even if we all agreed on what God’s justice was, or if it exists)
This leads us to Return of the Jedi. Orson Scott Card was quite PO’d that merely by saving Luke, Darth Veder gets to join Obiwan on the light side of the force. And Card has a point, particularly after seeing Anakin’s massive bloodshed in Ep3. On the other hand, if Vader had repented and turned to Jesus, Card would presumably have to concede that he gets a free pass (or doesn’t that hold in the LDS?).
My point is that for a redemption arc to work as drama, it can’t be too easy. Even in a Christian context, you need someone to seriously face up to the fact they’ve been a complete shit before they make the change. And then they have to prove it. Dramatically speaking, we need works as well as faith.
In a non-religious context, we have Thunderbolts #9 as an example (cover by Mark Bagley, all rights to current holder) Kurt Busiek looks back at the second Avengers team, which included former “evil mutants” Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and ex-criminal Hawkeye. In the original stories, their transition to heroes was smooth; here Busiek shows the public much less willing to let them off the hook. Mark Waid’s Incorruptible series (covered in some of my book review posts) does a good job by taking Max Damage’s past crimes seriously: He has lots to atone for, and Waid doesn’t make it easy.
Long-running series pose their own problems. In comics, as several creators have said, redemption comes about simply because some characters have been around for years and in trying to find new angles, it’s natural to start seeing things from their sides. This can create an interesting development (Magneto’s off-and-on stints as hero, Catwoman’s moving from villain to anti-hero). But it’s to let past crimes slide (one Marvel editor suppposedly vetoed a Venom series on the grounds he was just too murderous).
In TV, charming, attractive actors can make it easy to see characters as more sympathetic than they are. Syler, the murderous power-stealer of Heroes‘ first season became implausibly sympathetic as the series went on; I can’t but suspect some of that was because pre-Spock Zachary Quinto had a female fan base.
Regina in Once Upon a Time frequently comes off as tragic. She’s lonely and desperate for love and Lana Parilla conveys her pain very well. That doesn’t change the fact she was a coldblooded killer who devastated a kingdom from her hatred for Snow White and near the end of this past season was willing to kill the entire cast provided she and her son could escape. She starts out the year trying to be good but when it turns out people still don’t trust her, she turns—and I can’t help feeling the show wants us to sympathize with her more than she deserves (after all she’s done, assuming she’s still a killer is hardly unreasonable).
Likewise, Vader’s turn to the light worked for me because it’s such a powerful dramatic moment. It might be a lot harder to buy if I’d read it on the printed page.
When I heard Ben Kingsley would be playing the Mandarin in Iron Man III, I was peeved.
Here we have a movie featuring Iron Man’s archenemy, one of Marvel’s most prominent Asian characters (though a very stereotypical one), and he’s being played by a white guy. Sure, Kingsley is awesome, but there are awesome Chinese actors out there. Why not use one for a Chinese villain and maybe work on making him a little less of a “sinister oriental” stereotype?
As it turns out, because the Mandarin is a scam. Guy Pearce is the real villain, the leader of AIM (a criminal cartel in the comics, here a high-tech corporation) who’s developed a method for turning humans into living bombs. When they carry out a terrorist attack, there’s no recognizable bomb parts left to track it back (Law and the Multiverse discusses the legality of the “Extremis” treatment here and other Iron Man-related topics).
The Mandarin is just a front Pearce uses for a series of terrorist attacks culminating in the murder of the president, after which Pearce’s ally, the VP, will take the White House. When Tony Stark confronts the Mandarin, he turns out to be a drug-addled British actor who doesn’t quite grasp that real people are getting shot in tandem with his televised statements (which freaks out some conservatives for not presenting a truly scary terrorist and showing the real villain as an American). And Kingsley’s performance as the actor is glorious.
So given that plot, I can see why they weren’t worried about casting a Chinese actor … but then again, why not cast a Chinese actor?
The standard response is that “race shouldn’t matter. It should be the best actor” but that rarely works the other way: Minority actors are much less likely to get cast in a role that isn’t specifically written as Asian. And there’s a long history of Asian roles being played by white guys: Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan have never been played by an Asian, and actors as Caucasian as Katherine Hepburn, Alec Guinness and Mickey Rooney (Dragon Seed, Passage to India and Breakfast at Tiffany‘s respectively) have been cast in Eastern roles (more recently Prince of Persia and Avatar the Last Airbender have Asian leads played by white guys). So yeah, turning a prominent Asian villain into a white guy still bugs me (but not, obviously, enough to stop me seeing it)
(Cover art by Jack Kirby, all rights with current holder)
Filed under Comics, Movies
Finishing up some series—THE AMERICANS was FX’s take on the sleeper-agent concept (which I wrote about a lot in Screen Enemies of the American Way): It’s the early 1980s and Keri Russell is one half of a Soviet couple who’ve been posing as married Americans for the past 20 years. With Reagan heating up the Cold War, their jobs have never been more crucial, especially with the administration working on a missile defense program that could render Soviet missiles useless (it’s a few years too early for that to be an issue, but as my friend Ross says, it makes such a good McGuffin). This is a solidly entertaining show (though right-winger Jonah Goldberg claims I should hate it because it undercuts my liberal beliefs. Umm, no) where everyone on both sides is constantly surrounded by mistrust and deceit and forced to do stuff they shouldn’t. Looking forward to season two.
ONCE UPON A TIME‘s second season is set, like the first, in a town in our world to which Snow White’s evil stepmother Regina (Lana Parilla) banished all the fairytale characters so that they’d never know a happy ending again. Only at the end of last season, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) broke the curse: magic works in the town, everyone knows who they are and very few of them are happy with what Regina did. I found this season thoroughly enjoyable, though given Regina’s history as a murderous tyrant, they seem awfully soft on her at times (something I’ll discuss in depth soon).
ARROW is the CW’s adaptation of DC’s Green Arrow (whose strange history I’ve covered before). As in the comics, Oliver Queen is a shallow playboy transformed by several years on a desert island (though a much livelier one than the print version). Returning home, he carries out his father’s wishes to root out the corrupt businessmen strangling Starling City, not hesitating to murder if it comes to it. However, millionaire Merlyn (John Barrowman) has a plan, and the skills to carry it out without letting “the Hood” (as the press have labeled Ollie’s alter ego) get in his way (curious trivia point: The comic-book archer Merlyn was never really a Green Arrow adversary, just someone who engaged in an archery contest with him once and later crossed paths in a couple of JLA adventures, the first of which is shown here. Art by Neal Adams, rights with whoever currently holds them). It ain’t great art, but it’s a fun show.
The Coen Brothers’ neo-noir THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001) has a lot of similarities with Fargo in that like William Macey in the earlier film, barber Billy Bob Thornton is fed up with working for his in-laws and determined to change his life by financing a business opportunity through crime (blackmailing wife Frances McDormand’s employer/lover James Gandolfini)—which, of course, spirals into Horribly Wrong territory almost at once (reminding me of wrter John Roger’s view that the underlying theme of neo-noir is that you’re not as smart as you think). Unfortunately instead of Macey’s desperate, frantic schemer, Thornton is far too phlegmatic: He may not like his life, but he’s resigned to his fate and never struggles more than he absolutely has to. Despite the striking black-and-white photography, that makes this ultimately too uninvolving to hold me. With John Polito as an entrepreneur, Tony Shalhoub as a fast-talking lawyer and Scarlett Johanssen as a young pianist. “That helps—not that she didn’t do it, but that she hasn’t confessed.”
IRON MAN III (2013) has Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) PTSDed by his experiences in Avengers (“Gods, aliens—I’m just a guy in a can.”) which leads to some bad decisions when tackling a terrorist campaign by the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) in alliance with scheming CEO Guy Pearce (“I control both terrorism and counter-terrorism.”). They obviously decided Robert Downey Jr. was way more interesting out of costume as he stays as Tony almost all of the film; Kingsley turns in a terrific performance though I’ll be saying more about the yellowface aspects in my next post. “Jarvis, it’s time for the house party.”
AMERICAN WEDDING (2003) is the third installment wherein Jason Biggs pops the question to Alyson Hannigan, resulting in the usual problems of wedding jitters, wedding-party romances, obnoxious relatives and various leftover elements from the previous movies. Surprisingly charming; with Fred Willard as Hannigan’s dad and January Jones as a cute bridesmaid. “I need help with my wedding vows, not my period.”
Filed under Comics, Movies, TV
As a comics fan, reading CINEMA OF ISOLATION: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies by Martin F. Noden was an interesting experience.
The book takes it’s title from Noden’s argument that films tend to isolate the disabled, implying they can never truly hang out with the able unless they get a miracle cure (which happens a lot). Otherwise they’re freaks, pariahs, outcasts; in many films, even the disabled themselves believe that marrying an able-bodied person would be a horrible mismatch and unfair to their partner.
Noden suffers badly from Freudianism (his critique of the Moby Dick adaptation The Sea Beast is that it the happy ending is all wrong for the Oedipal conflict he thinks is at the movie’s heart), but his book does a good job showing how stereotypes of the disabled persisted through the 20th century (though improving over time). A consistent problem is the often explicit view that if the disabled can’t adjust, it’s their own fault. All they need is the will to achieve and excel and they’ll be fine, because it’s not like there’s discrimination against the disabled or anything like that (curiously, most movies also ignore government rehab programs and anti-discrimination policies—mainstreaming is presented as a matter of individual effort.
What jumped out at me reading this was how much of what Noden says applies to comic-book handling of disability. Not that comics are unique in this (the whole point of Noden’s book is that these are common myths) but it still struck me. Consider some of them:
•Blind people can easily be fooled, a recurring plot in love comics.
•The Obsessive Avenger out to get even with someone (or everyone) for his accident. The cyborg Tharok in the Legion of Super-Heroes was part of it, and Two-Face probably qualifies too.
•The superstar, the character who’s better or more heroic than an ordinary person, despite their disability. Daredevil, for example, has such heightened senses he can detect and notice more than the abled. Though of course, comics are filled with people who have extraordinary powers, so that’s not entirely surprising.
•Rejecting love because, crippled! Stan Lee had a field day with this in the Silver Age: Matt Murdock couldn’t speak his love because he was—blind! Scott Summers couldn’t speak his love because he has uncontrollable optic blasts! Don Blake (Thor’s alter ego, with one bad leg) couldn’t speak his love because he was lame! The same meme cropped up the early seventies series It! the Living Colossus, the protagonist refusing to speak his love because he was paraplegic.
•Noden’s book made me realize the wheelchair-bound tech person is a stereotype though a minor one, so Barbara “Oracle” Gordon was in good company before the DC Reboot got her walking again. And there are even earlier wheelchair-bound team leaders, such as the Doom Patrol’s Chief and Professor X.
•Inspiring statements about how you can achieve greatness just like Beethoven (deaf) or Milton (blind) and so on, if you just try! Outside of Marvel’s short-lived Nightmask, there was rarely any consideration given to discrimination.
•I also find myself wondering if cyborgs aren’t a way to take and repackage the same stereotypes at a more superhuman (or science-fictional level). Why settle for an avenger bitter over a missing leg when you can have Tharok, who lost half his body (and had it replaced by an ugly cyborg half to boot)? Why stop at feeling sorry for having prosthetic hands when like the Titans’ Cyborg (now the JLA’s Cyborg, of course) you can be tormented by having a prosthetic body (and any negative reactions don’t imply real-world ableism—I mean, just look at him!)?
I suspect I’ll be thinking about Noden’s book for a while yet.
(Astonishing Tales cover by Gil Kane, Young Love by John Romita, all rights reside with current holders).
“Jeffty is Five” was Harlan Ellison’s contribution to the Year’s Finest Fantasy, which I reviewed a couple of weeks back. What struck me rereading it was how much my reaction differed from the first reading.
The narrator is a thirty something guy nostalgic for the movie serials, pulp magazines and radio adventure shows of his youth. Jeffty was his childhood friend, and now still a child, a five-year-old boy who refuses to age.
Which turns out quite cool for the narrator because whatever magic Jeffty invokes affects the media as well: when he’s around Jeffty he can go the movies and see new Humphrey Bogart films, read new Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom stories, listen to new adventures of Captain Midnight on the radio (eventually things go horribly wrong). When I was in college, I really loved the whole idea, and the execution. Rereading it, not so much. Not that I spot some hideous flaw in the story, it just didn’t move me.
As someone who rereads a lot of stuff (as you know if you follow this blog regularly), I’m often intrigued by how we don’t cross the same river twice. So I started thinking about what it was that didn’t work for me this time.
One obvious possibility is that I’m simply not as attached to reading (or watching movies, or TV or comics) as I was 35 years or so ago. I was shy, a little withdrawn and so a lot of my passion channeled itself into reading/watching fiction. I came alive with the characters, fell in love with them, felt my pulse race, etc., etc.
That hasn’t been true for a while. I still love fiction in all its forms, but it’s not my emotional center any more. I’ve learned to connect with people, even long before I met TYG. So where I could identify with the narrator’s yearning for all those fantastic tales he remembered, I don’t feel it now.
Which leads to a second point, there’s much less need for nostalgia now. If it was on TV or in the movies, it’s almost certainly on DVD or at least videotape (not always, but usually). The most obscure of comic-books, once unattainable, turn up in hardback collector’s editions or trade paperbacks. Internet used-book services make it possible to find pretty much anything. I don’t have to sit here wishing Mission: Impossible were still on; I have three seasons on DVD and I can stream the rest on Netflix. If I want movie serials, I can (and have) catch them on DVD too.
Of course, the “Jeffty” narrator isn’t just nostalgic: He’s quite clear that he doesn’t want to rewatch old stuff or listen to tapes of old shows, or watch cheap modern imitations—he wants new material done just as well as the old stuff, and in just the same style (reminding me of one column from the 1980s where Ellison complained about radical new changes to old comics characters, but also grumbled about Marvel’s New Universe competing with the company’s Silver Age line). And here we really part company.
It’s not just that I have no huge desire to see a couple more seasons of I Spy or the Addams Family or a few more albums of Beatles work (that might be cool, but even so I’m not moved by the prospect). It’s that I don’t see myself looking back at my childhood and teenage years and thinking everything was so vastly superior. I have nostalgia for my teen entertainments, but I can’t fool myself that it’s based on some immense difference in quality. Maybe the fact that entertainment hasn’t change that much (not compared to the death of radio drama and movie serials), or maybe I’ve just outgrown nostalgia in some way. When I saw the play Is There Life After High School in my early thirties, I was quite moved; when I saw it in my late forties, I wasn’t. The production was good, but looking back at high school just didn’t impact me so much. I think I’m supposed to grow more nostalgic as I age, but perhaps I’m doing it wrong.
Filed under Movies, Personal, TV