Tuesday, July 31, 2012

True Adolescents: Camping with an Apatovian Peter Pan

I love the twenty-first century cinematic exploration of male perpetual adolescence just about as much as anybody. But there is always a moment when I'm watching Knocked Up or Forty Year Old Virgin or Role Models where I have to willfully not mind that the hero's emotional immaturity is defined against and made to aspire to a female character's more normative (and usually more uptight and way less funny) adult ethos. True Adolescents, written and directed by first-timer Craig Johnson and starring mublecore kid made good actor/writer/director Mark Duplass, imagines a different equation for how a juvenile thirty-something finally grows up.

Duplass's Sam hits all the major chords of an Apatovian man-boy. He's unemployed, he fantasizes about being a rock star, he performs the bare minimum of personal grooming, and he's a bit of a dick. But rather than position Sam against a love interest with more ambition and/or money (which seem to be metonyms for maturity in this genre), True Adolescents places him in juxtaposition with two, well, true adolescents: his teenaged cousin Oliver and his best friend Jake. After moving in with Jake and his mom (a predictably excellent Melissa Leo), Sam reluctantly agrees to take the boys camping after Jake's dad bails. The next three days expose, challenge, and recalibrate Sam's assumptions about what is valuable in his personality.

And that's what I really loved about the film. Rather than have Sam transform into a person radically unlike who he was before, the time he spends alternately joking with and bullying his companions, and the way he has to take control when Jake goes missing in the woods and he and Oliver get lost looking for him, forces Sam to emphasize aspects of his self--and his latent adulthood--that were there all along. To the film's credit, these woods are not metaphorical. They are dark and cold and dangerous, and Sam's stronger body, as well as his capacity for good-humored leadership, are crucial to surviving the night. True Adolescents argues that the reason Sam can become a man (and I'm using this gender designation because the major players were all male, though the film doesn't explicitly suggest this model is available only to boys) is because it's necessary. His maturity blossoms when it's needed--sort of like the seeds that only germinate in the heat of a forest fire. And, just like those trees, there's no going back once the process has been activated. The film concludes with a series of scenes that demonstrate the extent to which Sam isn't the same "greasy little bastard" he was at the beginning.

Another truly valuable--and, to my knowledge, unique--element of True Adolescents is its rigorous treatment of the casual homophobic language that serves as default slang in so many films of this type. The teasing-by-way-of-gay-slur that comes so naturally to Sam, and is already becoming second nature to boys Oliver's age, is shown to have real and potentially devastating consequences. Watching how this damage is thoughtlessly inflicted, and the attempts at repair, is one of the most moving tropes of the film.

Many thanks to the President and Creative Director of the Jonathan Alexandratos Movies You've Never Heard Of Collection for the recommendation.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Step Up Revolution

Step Up Revolution (heretofore SUR) is as good as it was going to be.  If you can keep that in your mind while watching, then you'll enjoy every minute of it.  It you head into it thinking it could, should or would be something more, then you'll be disappointed.  I have a deep appreciation for movies that know what they are and don't try to be something else (ahem, Showgirls).  This was one of those movies.  They didn't try too hard with the traditional aspects of filmmaking (story, directing, acting, etc.) but they excelled with what they knew would work (choreography and hot actors).

Ok, let's just go ahead and address the story.  Yes, there actually was one or an attempt at one.  It's nothing new.  A rich girl makes friends with the poor kids in town and decides to help them save their community center/dance studio.  If that sounds familiar then you've seen classics like Honey (save the dance studio/youth center) or the actual classic...Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (save the community center).  Also, if you've seen these, WE SHOULD TOTALLY HANG OUT SOMETIME!!!  So yeah, the kids in this movie were desperate to save an entire neighborhood in Miami from the big bad developer who also happens to be the dad of the rich girl trying to help.  (Ooops, should I have said "SPOILER ALERT" before I wrote that?)  Granted no one in SUR is named "Ozone" or "Turbo" but there is a "Moose".  Oh yes, there is a "Moose".  But I'll get to him in a minute.
Soooo the story wasn't anything new.  The acting was sub-par and the film's heavy hitting actor was none other than Sandy Cohen.  Now I love Peter Gallagher and think he's a fine actor indeed, but he literally is the only person in here who has a semi-recognizable name.  That does not bode well for any movie.  I was anxious to see how Kathryn McCormick (above right) would do since I was a big fan of hers when she competed on So You Think You Can Dance.  Unfortunately she seemed uncomfortable almost the entire time.  This is her co-star, Ryan Guzman's (above left), first film too, but he was way more confident onscreen.

However, one does not go to movies such as this to see fine performances in acting.  What one goes to this kind of movie for is DANCE!  Who cares if the story was unoriginal and the cast happened to barely manage their dialogue?  I certainly didn't because the dancing was superb.

"The Mob" first dances for fame and money
Later "The Mob" dances for protest.  Ahhh, how very deep.
As I said, the dancing was great.  I was truly impressed and I see a lot of these kinds of movies and watch a lot of dancing shows.  Not that I'm any kind of judge but I felt like they really brought some new stuff that you don't see all the time.  In fact I'm actually disappointed that I didn't see it in 3D.  I bet it was pretty freakin' cool in 3D. 

Lastly, if you're a fan of the Step Up movies you know it wouldn't be the same without Moose!  I'm ashamed to say that I actually cheered out loud when he finally showed up.  I'm a goofball, I know it.  Oh and I'm going to buy the soundtrack.  It was dope, or sick, or whatever the kids these days say.

How can you not love MOOSE?!?!?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"The Thin Dead Line" (Angel 2.14): Ezra Pound Edition

If you've ever had the pleasure of reading Ezra Pound's annotations on early drafts of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, you know he was a) a great editor (il miglior fabbro indeed) and b) a bit of a shit. One passage is marked, and I'm paraphrasing, Pope did it before. If you can't do it better, don't. Which brings us to this week's episode of Angel, in which weak sauce zombie cops threaten teenagers. Basically every major move of the episode has been done better (not by Pope, and not necessarily before, but still). For example:

Episode: Angel continues his co-dependent and self-destructive relationship with a blonde in a position of power, going to Kate the Boring for help with reports of violent L.A. cops, and doing some research in a graveyard.

Where it was done better:

There is only one blonde Angel needs to hang out with in graveyards when he's feeling co-dependent and self-destructive.

Episode: The teens at Anne's shelter describe the abusive cops to Gunn, whom she has commissioned for help, using borderline offensive "ghetto speak." Wince along with me as you read this transcript:

The cops are trippin', G.
Define "trippin'" for me.
Out for blood. Les here got her arm
busted up.
Cops stopped me few nights back, went
for his gun looking to put a cap in my
ass. If I ain't outrun the doughnut-eatin'
dude, I wouldn't be sitting here talking
to you.

Where it was done better: Oh, the possibilities are endless, but let's go with Attack the Block.

Episode: One of the clues that the cops are zombies being puppet-mastered by some unknown force is the way they mindlessly recite Miranda rights despite being beaten right and good by a vampire.

The way the decapitated head kept talking was another clue.

Where it was done better: If you're going to monkey with Miranda, it begins and ends with 21 Jump Street.

Episode: Wes gets gut-shot by a zombie cop, and has to hole up in Anne's shelter while some more zombie cops storm the place.

To be fair, this was a pretty shocking moment.

Where it was done better: Well, if we're going for an injured Scooby in a house under siege, how's about this?

Xander's funny syphilis!

Or, if you prefer to focus on zombies attacking a house, we not only have this:

Ain't no party like a "Dead Man's Party."

But also, of course, this:

The classic.

Or Jesus, even this:

What I did like about the episode was the way that Gunn/Wesley/Cordelia worked one side of the zombie cop problem, while Angel worked the other, unknown to them, mostly by walking on a lot of rooftops. Which, as Jenn points out, we haven't seen in a while. They're getting closer to reconciling, methinks. But the audience is left with kind of an important question--what about the girl with the eye in the back of her head?

Pictured: A problem that doesn't seem that urgent.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: So You Say You Want a Revolution

Alisa has already provided an awesome and substantive review of The Dark Knight Rises, but I can't resist throwing my two cents in as well, mainly because watching the film left me with a lot of questions (which is a good thing). I'm going to attempt to remain as spoiler-free as possible, but I will be discussing plot points that the Frank Costanzas of the world (who want to go in FRESH!) would probably rather not know.

I was particularly struck by the way Bane appropriates the rhetoric and performance (using that word on purpose--more on that later) of revolution, particularly Occupy Wall Street and, even more so, the 1789 French Revolution. Having formed a cult of personality cum suicidal army, he announces his intentions to "give Gotham back to the people," and dismantle the power structures that depend upon exploitation and (explicitly) financial inequality in order to function. Prisons are stormed, homes are looted, kangaroo courts are convened to punish the wealthy and formerly powerful, and barricades are constructed in order to isolate, and ostensibly liberate, the city. But Bane isn't really a radical socialist. He's a tyrant wearing the mask of a revolutionary.

Whereas Heath Ledger's Joker (still the most compelling villain in the trilogy, if not in the whole of the cinematic superhero genre) fed on chaos, Bane is a deliberate and practiced deconstructionist. He wants to tear down the city not to see where the breaking points are, nor for the pleasure of watching it burn. He wants to take the pieces of Gotham and fashion something new--a prison that mirrors the dank dungeon that in many ways birthed him, and that he believes will "fulfill" the incomplete vision of his and Bruce Wayne's mentor, Ra's al Ghul. And deconstruction, after all, includes both the impulse to destroy and the directive to create. Bane's is a distorted and demented version of creation, but creation nonetheless. Similarly, Bane has created a body, voice, and posture that embody this project. He speaks and walks like an English lord but fights in a body that is in and of itself armored. (Hardy got huge, y'all.)

The trope of masking, both literal and figurative, is crucial to unpacking the politics of The Dark Knight Rises. Bane and Batman's masks are markers of their strength (Bane's is literally life-giving, Batman's allows him to protect those he cares about), and, for the same reasons, their physical and emotional vulnerability. Both masks get dismantled at key moments in the film for each character. But what the movie seems to argue is that the most dangerous and deceitful masks are the ones that you can't take off, that can't be broken. What the film categorizes as evil is the sort of disguise that seeps into the skin itself.

Which brings me to authority. In some ways, The Dark Knight Rises has a healthy conservative streak. The film's final epic battle scene (which is dazzling in its brutality) demonstrates a robust endorsement of civic institutions and a real mistrust of power outside the system. But then there's The Batman, who irrefutably does exert power on the margins. And I think it is the very portability of The Batman persona--the removable mask and cape--that excuses the character from the sort of chaotic power that all the films in the trilogy demonize. (And I believe that ultimately, the film argues that the authentic revolutionary spirit that animated the Occupy movement and the French Revolution is the "good" kind of power. I'm using a reading from a particular novel at a significant moment towards the end of the film for evidence.) And it is in that sort of fluid authority that we, the mere mortals, can place our faith. The human capacity for faith and belief is another pervasive and complicated theme in the film, and it is similarly portrayed as changeable, rooted in the evocativeness of a symbol, and as strong as the Batsuit itself.

"Crush" (Buffy 5.14): Spike's Got 99 Problems

And the bitches are like, #1-3. This is the episode where we get the big reveal re: Spike's feelings re: Buffy. And, as Jenn points out, the results are a bit underwhelming. So here's the meh Buffy guide to dealing with a love that ain't requited. Spoiler alert: Spike doesn't follow any of these rules.

DO try not to be too fucked up. And here's where Spike earns his first major fail. First of all, he dresses like a prepster doofus.

Are those khakis? I blame Riley.

Second of all, he engages in some utterly perverse role playing with Harmony.

Where has she been lately, anyway?

DON'T disregard the foreshadowing. Tara fulfills her usual role this season of being incredibly insightful, even when she doesn't know she's being insightful. (So is that just "sightful"? Whatever.) She might think she's discussing The Hunchback of Notre-Dame when she says that the love story would never work out because the hero acts out of selfishness and "you can tell it's not going to have a happy ending when the main guy's all bumpy,"  but methinks there is a second meaning there.


DO avoid falling into bad patterns with old lovers. Dru takes a break from growing back her skin from the Angel flambe and makes a little trip to Sunny D. She wants to snag Spike for the Her and Darla Army (since Angel slaughtered the last group of recruits), and goads him into eating the recently dead female half of the, as Jenn points out, least sexy maker-outers ever seen in The Bronze.

It's like they're slow dancing in junior high.

And, if you are going to be fucked up, DON'T let the crazy show.

Pictured: Crazy showing.

DO take a hint. And this goes for Harm, too. Both Spike and Harmony love in a way that completely disregards not only the actions, but the actual articulated rejections of their crushes. Buffy basically dry heaves whenever Spike professes his love for her,

The expression everyone dreams of seeing when dropping the L-word.

and Spike, in turn, freaking tried to stake Harmony not that long ago.

Um, awww?

DON'T forget about the key. It's actually Dawn's crush, on Spike, that for me is what makes this episode relevant for the season and series. Buffy is revolted at her sister's fixation because Spike is a vampire without a soul.

Unlike this guy.

But Dawn's glib "same dif" when comparing Angel's soul to Spike's chip is pretty provocative. Does the prohibition against Spike's bloodlust give him the space to choose an ethical and human life? As Drusilla tells us, vampires can love, "quite well . . . if not wisely."

It's the line of the episode.

Let's keep an eye on this question, shall we? Is a soul materialistically ontological (you have one or you don't)? Or is it existential (about the choices a vampire makes)?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Adaptation Angst: Dracula

Frequent OMwG guest-blogger and full-time partner-in-crime Nat alerted me to this upcoming 10-hour adaptation of Dracula NBC is planning. Here, in no particular order, are the elements that give me pause:
  • This quote: "This latest version of “Dracula” will be set in London in the 1890s, with the count transformed into an American businessman interested in bringing modern science to Victorian society." Um, what? I like that they're preserving Dracula's "otherness," as part of the power of the novel is how the supernatural count is used as a literalization of anxieties about Britishness intersecting with the foreign, but American? Not exactly a threatening alterity. And a businessman? Okay, if you're going to do some sort of bloodsucking capitalist thing, but what up with the "modern science" angle? It's not like Victorian society was, you know, unfamiliar with or disconnected from encroaching modernity.
  • Jonathan Rhys Myers has been cast as Drac. Myers is cute and all, 
BUT, I haven't seen him work the oily seductiveness you need for Dracula since Velvet Goldmine. True, I haven't seen The Tudors, but it seems Henry VIII has a different, shall we say, leadership style than the count?  As an aside, while researching this post (see what I do for you people?) I discovered today is his 35th birthday. No hard feelings and many happy returns, JRM!
  • No one else has been cast yet. I'm seeing visions of Kelsey Grammar as Van Helsing and Miley Cyrus as Mina. 
Angst Level: 8

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I've got Olympic FEVER!

I love the Olympics.  I try not to use the “L” word too much unless I mean it.  But in this case, it totally fits.  I LOVE THE OLYMPICS.  If not for my annual trek to San Diego every year for geek mecca, I would use my vacation days to stay home and watch as much Olympic coverage as possible.  I would set up all my TVs in one room and have each one set to one of NBC’s many channels covering events.  This is not to say I don’t burn out quickly but I always manage to stick it out to the less impressive closing ceremonies. 

Thankfully the coverage at NBC is pretty good.  They’ll let you know who won handball, who bounced around impressively on the trampoline, and if any weightlifting folks peed themselves that day.  Plus one can always rely on the interwebs to find just about anything Olympics-related.  My biggest problem?  Well that would be avoiding coverage during the day while I’m at work.  I’m usually pretty good at just checking in during my lunch break.  As soon as I’m home though, it’s all Olympics all the time.

I love the background stories telling us what hardships each athlete has had to overcome to reach this international competition.  The more emotional a story we get the better. Of course being in the U. S. of A. we tend to mostly get stories about American athletes.  However, I want to know more about the international athletes.  Sure, I’m desperate to know every blessed detail there is about Ryan Lochte.  Heck, I want to know more about that guy than he knows about himself. 

So I've been trolling the London Olympics page to see what I can find out about the non-US competitors.  Sadly not everyone has a paragraph describing life on a farm with at least one dead parent and/or 15 younger siblings to care for.  I found Oteng Oteng, a boxer from Botswana.  What’s his story?  What hardships has he overcome in life?  Where exactly is Botswana?  Oooh, how about purple-haired Phillip Boy from Germany?  He’s a gymnast and having purple hair makes him automatically interesting, right?  Will NBC tell me anything about him?  Is he a Katie Perry fan and is honoring her with his hair style?  Did you know there’s a trampolinist (is that a word?) from China, er, People’s Republic of China, named Dong Dong?  Hannah Storm should do a story on athletes with redundant names.  I bet there are more than just Dong Dong and Oteng Oteng.  Will they mention that there are 7 athletes named Li competing in table tennis?  Jiao Li (39) and Jie Li (28) are both from the Netherlands.  Are they related?  Will someone please tell me?!?!?! 

If ever there was a year that I wanted to go to the Olympics it was this year.  I love all things English and would have LOVED to be there for all the festivities.  I bet London is CRAZY right now.  Did you know my beloved Brits even have a sitcom about the team responsible for getting the city ready for the onslaught of Olympic hopefuls and fans?  It’s called Twenty Twelve and stars Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey and Jessica Hynes from Spaced (one of my other favorite British shows).  It’s funny and frustrating and I love that the Brits can make fun of themselves like that.

The opening ceremonies are tomorrow night.  Will you be watching?  Apparently they’re expecting no rain so I hope that’s true since the stadium has no roof.  Want to know who is expected to perform?  Too bad.  They’re keeping tight-lipped across the pond.  But BBC has some hints if you're interested.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Ethics of Documentary Filmmaking, or, Shut the Hell Up, Michel Negroponte

I left New York yesterday with a lot of reluctance and a copy of Jupiter's Wife from the Jonathan Alexandratos Movies You've Never Heard Of Collection. I snagged it because the subject of the documentary--a homeless woman in Central Park who claims to be the wife of Jupiter, but also is remarkably articulate and well-read amongst all the crazy--sounded intriguing. I did not select it because I was interested in what narrative director and voiceover narrator, Michel Negroponte, might impose over Maggie's own voice and story. Too bad it ended up shaking out to about 60% the former, 40% the latter.

The elements of the documentary that follow Maggie as she and her pack of dogs navigate the city, charm powerful strangers (including the director, but also a wealthy Upper East Side maven), and reveal a past both groundbreaking and heartbreaking, are pretty fabulous. And I understand that it was Negroponte who does the legwork to fill in the blanks of the "haunting real-life mystery" of Maggie's actual past, so he probably deserves a substantial presence in the film. But what bothered me was the way he seemed to co-author Maggie's understanding and articulation of her present.

As evidenced by the film's title, Maggie is fascinated by Roman mythology, and her disease (probably schizophrenia) partially manifests through layering the stories of the gods over figures and events in her own life that are, for various reasons, intolerable to her. This palimpsest is, as to be expected, incomplete and incoherent as a personal system of meaning. But almost as if to force this desperate and disordered psychic strategy into a stable narrative, Negroponte extends the metaphor through his voiceover, and connects different elements and people in Maggie's life to other elements of Roman mythology (deeming Central Park "Avernus," for example) in a way that felt not just obtrusive but proprietary and unethical. Maggie's way of understanding her world, distorted and delusional as it may be, is and should remain hers alone. Negroponte stumbled, quite literally, across this compelling figure and chose not to let the film follow where she might lead (as chaotic, but also as beautiful, as that might have been), but instead shaped the movie into a mystery he would solve, which necessitates casting Maggie as a puzzle, not a damaged human being.

This to me is worse than another documentarian pet peeve--the propensity to know what story you're going to tell before you start to tell it. (Looking at you, Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock). Even if I agree with the ultimate argument made by such films (still looking at Moore and Spurlock), one of the things I love about documenatries is the way a director's sense of discovery and possibility can become a joint experience with the audience. You know, I don't think anyone was shocked to learn that McDonald's is bad for you, though watching Spurlock prove that was undeniably entertaining.

I think an instructive point of comparison for Jupiter's Wife is my man Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man. The latter film also features Herzog serendipitously discovering a subject fascinating in his bizarreness, Tim Treadwell, a frustrated and lost man who compulsively films himself living amongst wild grizzly bears in Alaska, with which he imagines a mystical communion. Herzog maintains a strong presence in the film, narrating and documenting his intersection with Treadwell's life. But he never tries to explain or appropriate his subject's personal mythology (which makes about as much sense as thinking you're married to Jupiter--trust me). Instead, his narration becomes a conversation with his absent subject, an invitation to the audience to take Treadwell seriously as an autonomous individual worthy of respect despite his self-destructive mania, modeled through Herzog's baffled but curious and compassionate commentary. Jupiter's Wife would have benefited from the same sort of approach. Why can't Werner Herzog just direct everything?

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Now that was a good movie. I didn't love it as much as I loved The Dark Knight but that would be pretty impossible.  I think what I did love most about this film is how it built on the previous two.  It incorporated characters and stories from its predecessors, which really gave it a feeling of a trilogy. They tackled the legacy left by Harvey Dent.  Characters from Batman Begins (yay Scarecrow!) and The Dark Knight appeared along with the introduction of Bane, Catwoman and the real protagonist of the movie, the child of Ra's al Ghul.  But to discuss the latter would get all spoilery for those who haven't seen it.  Also spoilery would be to discuss Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, Blake, so I won't go there.  But I will say...I SO TOTALLY CALLED IT RIGHT AWAY.  I managed to avoid any and all discussions on the net about whether that character was in the movie so I was glad to see they went there.   

So the story...Batman has been in hiding for 8 years due to taking the blame for the murder of Harvey Dent.  Of course we (and Commissioner Gordon) know the truth.  Actually now that I think about the plot, it's a bit heavy and contrived as far as the bad guys go.  It was kind of a shell game as to who was really the biggest bad in the movie.  First there's the literal big, bad Bane. Bane seems to answer to this one thug who answers to this dude on the Board of Wayne Enterprises who wants to take control of said company.  Well that's not the case at all and the person orchestrating things is supposed to be a bit of a surprise so I'm not going to go there.  Bane takes over and wants to be the speaker for the 99%. He manages to shows us just what would happen if we took down the detested 1%.  However I didn't see much spreading of the wealth after the upper class were tried and inevitably exiled from New Gotham.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne decides to put his trust in two of Gotham's hottest.  One is Selina Kyle, master cat burglar, who he knows deep down has some good in her.  I just want to say I loved the way they gave her the cat ears.  Clever, clever, clever!  The other is Miranda Tate, a wealthy do-gooder who Bruce puts in charge of Wayne Enterprises.  Silly Bruce, never trust women with agendas. 

Bane breaks Batman's back and then leaves him in the prison where Bane spent his formative years.  Bruce has to get better so he can travel back to Gotham to save the city he loves.  Or loves to hate.  Or hates to love. Meanwhile the cops are no help ("It's a TRAP!") except for Gordon and Blake.  Seriously, I'd want Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in charge of my city.  It was nice to see police officers not behave like the Keystone Cops for once.

Lots of death and destruction aside, I really dug how things played out in TDKR.  The plot moved along at a good pace and at 164 minutes it could have lagged at any number of points.  And somehow they managed to insert some emotion into the story too.  Bruce is all sorts of upset about how things turned out when he was only trying to help.  He lost the love of his life (Rachel) and took the blame for a murder he didn't commit just so the city would have a hero to look up to.  I also liked the twist that harkened back to Batman Begins and his mentor from the League of Shadows, Ra's al Ghul.  They really managed to tie things up nicely in what turned out to be one of the best trilogies ever. 

I really don't have much else to say.  The acting was spot-on by all involved. Tom Hardy was great as the brainy and brawny Bane.  Anne Hathaway was delicious as Catwoman.  She managed to give her a fragility that's come off as comical in the past.  Bale was great as usual as the tortured hero.  He's able to seem tormented without whining about it and that's appreciated.  The effects, both practical and special, were great.  There maybe was a hair too much on the destruction side but audiences love explosions so I can't fault them for that. 

I'm definitely going to see this again.  What did you guys think? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 4 and Wrap up - San Diego Comic-Con 2012

Really the only thing to share about Sunday, for me was the Fringe panel.  For my friend Jennifer it would be the Supernatural panel, which I left just before.  For my friend Lisa it would be the Doctor Who panel, which Jennifer left just before.  For Dana, it would be the Merlin panel happening WAAAAYYYY on the other side of the convention center.  After a very emotional Fringe panel (where everyone except for Pacey, er, Joshua Jackson cried) I hit the convention floor one last time. Luckily for me, half the attendees were still in line for the Doctor Who panel so the floor wasn't so horrible.  Usually Sundays are the worst because it's Kids' day and that usually equates to a packed convention floor with TOO MANY DANG STROLLERS!  I hate strollers.  In fact this year strollers were banned from the panel rooms, which was a start.  Actually this is a good bridge to my overall thoughts about this year's con.

IT WASN'T GREAT.  It wasn't awful but it wasn't great. 

Last year was pretty great.  Most people didn't know to get in line for a panel before the sun came up.  Now they do.  In fact now they get in line the night before when the sun hasn't bothered to go down quite yet. 

Last year we got TONS of swag, which is pretty standard.  This year, not so much.  Studios are tightening their belts.  Whatever.  We paid tons of money to be there.  They owe us.  Ok, not really but sometimes it feels that way.  Last year an attendee could walk up to a booth and get handed anything ranging from a set of full-sized posters to a tiny button.  Sure, things would get a little crazy but it worked.  This year if you wanted swag you had to go to some room, stand in line for over an hour, get a ticket, and go back to the booth to stand in line again to be handed a poster or button or whatever.  It was obnoxious.  The lines would wrap around the booth ensuring the losers without tickets couldn't actually walk into said booth.  I came home with a suitcase only 1 lb. heavier than when I left.  Wow, I sound really greedy.  First world problems, y'all!  Thank goodness for HBO and their love of giving things away.  They rock.  In fact this is what typical True Blood swag looks like.  Game of Thrones stuff is almost identical but all to do with GoT and not TB, but you know what I meant. 

The difference from last year to this was the presence of the original line buddies, Jennifer and Lisa.  We met them two years ago in line for Psych and formed an immediate bond.  They couldn't get tickets last year so we made sure that didn't happen again.  We even stayed in the same hotel this time around.  We love these girls and they made this year totally worth it.  Plus we met a new couple, Tanya and Saad.  I hope we get to see them next year because they were great too.

If you'd like to take a look at my crappy photos (most are out of focus and grainy), you can go to the google+ album I created just for you guys.  You can see plenty of in focus and less crappy photos all over the web but they're so impersonal.  Mine, however, evoke the image of me sitting way in the back of a room with a camera over my head just hoping the celebs would sit still so my slow shutter would catch them before they move.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Happy Anniversary" (Angel 2.13): It all comes from pain

Any and all hard-core Whedonites out there might recognize the subtitle's reference to Joss's response in "Commentary: The Musical" when asked where it (his inspiration) all comes from. "Happy Anniversary," with a story by His Whedonness and series co-creator David Greenwalt and a screenplay by Greenie, is a return to the heart-wrenching despair that made Angel into the tortured brooding lurker we know and love today. I really enjoyed this Angel guide to getting your heart broken so hard it damn near ends the world.
DO trust a scientist to be a scientist. As Jenn remarks, "Criminal mastermind or depressed, heartbroken, physicist--what's the difference?" As the angry villager in Young Frankenstein remarks, "Scientists, they're all alike! They say they're working for us, but what they really want is to rule the world!" The pro- and antagonist of this episode, Gene the genius physicist graduate student, is so busy with his experiment to try and freeze an instant of time, he doesn't notice how he's neglecting his hot ginger girlfriend Denise.

Pictured: The avatar of destruction and danger. Trust me.

Naturally, when he overhears her plan to break up with him, he decides to use his skillz to stop time before she gets the chance.

DO trust a dude to be a dude. The moment he chooses? Not during the lovely dinner he prepared for her in his apartment in which no physicist graduate student would ever live.

Seriously, when was the last time you were in a male graduate student's apartment that had wall sconces and a well-appointed foyer?
Not during the exchange of anniversary gifts. No no no. He selects the, ahem, climactic moment of what Denise terms "the sympathy bone."

Yeah, that moment.

DO trust a fundamentalist to be a fundamentalist. Lorne, who Jenn notes really transitions in this episode from a marginal player to a major Angel Scooby (We are in desperate need of a good name for Angel's crew. Any ideas?), alerts Angel to his psychic apprehension that the world is going to end because of Gene's little experiment. As the duo hilariously try to track Gene down before the sympathy bone, they run into a sect of Lubber demons determined to extend Gene's time bubble over the entire earth, thereby removing humans from the space-time continuum.

Attention people who understand "science": Does this look like an equation to freeze time? Jonathan? Paul? Anybody?

As far as I'm concerned, it's just an excuse to watch Lorne fight.

He sings them into submission. It's rad.

DO trust Angel to be Angel. During the pursuit, Lorne calls out Angel on his abandonment of his friends. He in turn invites Lorne to a pity party, bemoaning being Wolfram & Hart's whipping post, how wrong things went with Darla, and his despair at never being able to atone for his crimes as Angelus. After preventing the demons from extending Gene's freeze ray (Another Dr. Horrible shout-out), and allowing Denise to break up with him, the boys enjoy some sorrow drowning. Angel's analysis, "The guy's a disaster at love. Nearly destroyed the world. I can relate" was a highlight for both Jenn and me.

Angel's "been there, done that" face."

Meanwhile, back at Angel Investigations, we have another throwback that Jenn noted. There's a hilarious parody of an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery reveal, with Wesley running down clues and suspects in the parlor of an old manor house.

Wesley, laying out some circumstantial evidence.
More key? Just when Angel seems ready to reach out, it seems the gang is ready to move on.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Blood Ties" (Buffy 5.13): It's Buffy's birthday, so you know shit's going down

Buffy doesn't have the best record when it comes to celebrating the anniversary of her birth. And though this is no "Surprise," there is some Summers family drama. So here's a little guide to how to let your little sister know she's actually a blob of energy that might be evil.

DO actually tell your little sister she's actually a blob of energy that might be evil. Dawn has known something was up since she overheard Giles and Buffy talking about it a few episodes ago. She decides in the first few minutes of this episode to tell the other Scoobies, and has a rare moment of admitting she was wrong to wait. But she continues to wait to tell Dawn, just amping up the weird factor at her party that night because everyone is looking at Dawn like she's actually a blob of energy that might be evil.

Don't know why she didn't assume everyone was talking about the remarkably horrible shirt Xander was wearing earlier.

DON'T let the emotionally stunted vampire be the one to support her through the shock. And a subsidiary DON'T: DON'T write down absolutely everything in your journal, Giles. When Dawn gets tired of everyone being so utterly bad at pretending everything is normal, she sneaks out, runs into Spike, and goes to The Magic Box in order to find the journal, which isn't even written in code or anything. Spike is actually quite sweet about protecting her, and they get along really well, which is one of the cool things about this season and next, even if it does indicate that Spike is just like a teenage boy so he and Dawn have a lot in common.

What isn't so sweet is his "guess that's you" when she finds the passage about the Key.

DO let Dawn have her diva moment. Little sis loses it but good when she finds out she's not, technically, human, and only about six months old. Jenn and I both noted what a good job Michelle Trachtenberg does in these scenes.

Maybe it's just the ginormous knife, but this moment in particular gave me chills.

Buffy does her part to keep the focus where it belongs, on Dawn, by wearing a truly hideous and unflattering coat whilst searching for her.

It's like what the Slayer on Planet of the Apes would look like.

Jenn managed to ignore the coat long enough to recognize that Buffy's uncertainty about what to do even after they find Dawn is a key moment in the season. I shall quote her in full: "What is making this season so interesting is that Buffy, for the first time really, doesn't have a plan or even know what to do. She's fighting so many Big Bads (i.e., her mother's illness, Glory) that she can't even know where to begin fighting. Moreover, all of her strength is useless. She doesn't have a Plan B because she doesn't even have a Plan A. For the first time, it's life that's getting her down in a way that she can't act on; she can only react and deal with where the pieces fall." 

DON'T get too distracted by this storyline's attendant bullshit. Here are a list of things about this season that I a) think are stupid and boring and therefore b) can't stand to see on screen:
  1. Glory's minions
  2. The Knights of Whatever the Fuck
  3. The Ben/Glory body-sharing crap. 


three of them are in this episode. 

And it won't be the last time, either. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Magic Mike: An All-American Boy with A Dream in His Heart and Dollar Bills in His Buttless Chaps

You're welcome.
I saw David Copperfield (the magician, not the Dickens hero) in Salt Lake City once. Even though I went into the show knowing that he was a magician and was going to try to direct my attention exactly where he wanted for his own purposes, and even though I was resolutely determined to always keep my eyes away from flashy distractions, I got tricked into looking at the spectacle Every Single Time. I was reminded of this moment during Magic Mike, during a scene when the resistant and skeptical "good girl" Brooke watches the titular Channing Tatum's routine. She can't tear her eyes away from, well, exactly where he wants them. But the thing is, the performance is a magic trick on Mike as well.

Directorial chameleon Steven Soderbergh hasn't given us the whimsical heart-warming Floridian reboot of The Full Monty that the previews suggest, but he hasn't quite given us the cynical Dantean underworld of Boogie Nights, either. Magic Mike falls somewhere in between, and what it most reminded me of was the latest rash of cinematic capitalist critiques that have flooded art house screens since the Great Recession has had time to reverberate artistically. Mike strips to supplement the other two jobs he holds down in order to one day fund his dream of being a furniture designer. He wants an artisanal and self-actualized life, liberated from the carnivalesque Xquisite dance club run by uber-capitalist M.C. Dallas (an oily-in-every-sense Matthew McConaughey). Dallas keeps promising more to Mike--more money, more power, more square footage in a club in Miami--as long as he keeps letting him sell Mike's body and reap the lion's share of the profits. This is how Mike gets fooled. He's been taught to look at the money, so he doesn't see that Dallas is making his dream disappear.

But it's not just Mike's body that sells. And this is an interesting element in the film. What Mike can do is seduce--not only onstage, but all the time--it's inherent to who he is as a character. Mike charms a young co-worker, Adam, into joining the posse of male dancers at Xquisite, and he breaks down Adam's sister Brooke's barriers through sheer open-heartedness, persistence, and likability. Being seductive is not the same thing as being sexy, or being handsome (if you look at Tatum's face, it's not classically beautiful), or being talented, and it's not just about sex. Channing Tatum is the best dancer of all the actors by a light year, but Mike is seductive. People are attracted to Mike, whether he's dancing or not, because he draws them in through an expertly modulated blend of showing and withholding. This is what makes him a successful stripper. It's also what makes him worthy of empathy from the audience. It's also what makes Magic Mike a good film.

There is an artistry to the way Mike dances and flirts, and it is filmed that way--the camera celebrates the physical beauty of Channing Tatum (along with Alex Pettyfer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez and Kevin Nash). It's beautiful, but it's also inextricably linked to money. Watching Mike struggle to ascend out of the false promises of easy money (another powerful seducer), and watching Adam descend into them is compelling, heart-breaking, and moving. And all the pleasure comes from watching, whether the actors are stripping or not. It's hard not to wonder if Soderbergh, who famously toggles between big-budget studio pictures and micro-indies, isn't struggling to reconcile the aesthetically beautiful products he makes with the dollar bills we all plunk down to see them.

"Blood Money" (Angel 2.12): Strategery

Though this episode might not be as totally kick-ass satisfying as the concomitant Buffy offering of "Checkpoint," it does have some nice moments. It's like someone who is maybe not such a great writer nevertheless really tried to do something smart with "Blood Money" and almost got there. Seems to me, this one is all about how to strategize in order to get what you want.

DO refer to your Klingon proverbs. Or French ones. Whatever. But serving up your revenge cold is always preferable. Mr. Boone, Angel's nemesis from back in the day, has patiently bided (bidden?) his time to settle who's the best fighter, mano-a-mano.

Or demonio-a-demonio-con-alma, as the case may be.
He looks to Wolfram & Hart for help in getting Angel alone, which Lindsey is happy to provide. Which brings me to . . .

DON'T let your emotions muddy your calculations. Lindsey. Though his reply to Lilah's point that they technically aren't supposed to kill Angel, "Let me wipe away the tears with my plastic hand," is undoubtedly the best line of the show, it does demonstrate that he's too personally invested in getting Angel at all costs. This leads him to make stupid mistakes, like not realizing that Angel is freaking right behind him at the charity ball.

Lindsey must not have been given Where's Waldo? books as a child.

DO let the ends justify the means. Guess who's back, y'all!

Remember Chanterelle?

And Lily/Anne?

She's all growed up

with much better hair and make-up

and running a shelter for at-risk youth, which is pretty cool. It's also pretty hard to do without any money, so she's willing to get in bed with Wolfram & Hart (which is different than getting into bed with Lindsey, which I think would be easier to forgive), Angel, scary blue demon guy, whoever, in order to keep the shelter running. So when Angel brings her money that is literally drenched in blood (I said the writing was *almost* smart), serious as a heart attack she replies, "It'll wash."

You're going to fit right in.
Jenn has a good read on this: "This is an effectively disturbing philosophical stance that works well with Angel's progression away from fighting the good fight."

DO remember that making someone look stupid can be the best revenge. Angel runs a bit of a long con in this episode, enlisting Boone as a double agent for Wolfram & Hart and convincing Lindsey, Lilah, and Anne that he has proof of their plans to steal Anne's money. Turns out all he has is fairly hilarious footage of Cordy running lines for a milk commercial and Wesley stripping, but he does manage to goad L & L into acting like fools at the charity ball. Which I guess is worth it? This is where the episode sort of falls apart for me. Why would Lindsey go to all the trouble of befriending Anne, putting on a fake charity ball, and then skimming the profits off the top? Isn't Wolfram & Hart better at getting money than that? And footage of the two of them running through a crowd of people is a devastating blow?

Pictured: Abject and soul-crushing humiliation.

Whatevs. The charity ball itself is totally worth it for the snarky comments from the actors who were hired to play cowboys, such as "I'm going to fire my agent," and the party guest who asks one of the actresses why they turned her character gay. Has to be a Willow reference, yes?

DO keep your eyes on the prize. Another almost clever element of the episode was its opening comic scene of a Risk game between Wes and Gunn

Strategy! Toldja!

that transitions into a battle with a, sigh, fire-farting demon, and its penultimate scene of the long-awaited fight between Angel and Boone, which I think is a dramatic rewrite of the game.

There's also Western-esque gunfight camera work that I suspect is also an *almost* smart re-write of the comic "Highway Robbery" fundraiser.

Jenn notes that this juxtaposition pretty unfairly and counterproductively makes Wes and Gunn buffoons. Again I say, *almost* smart.