Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Following, episode 2

"Chapter Two"

What are your thoughts on the second episode of Fox's The Following?  Better than the pilot or not as good?  Are you still watching?  The numbers are surprisingly up from last week, which is good news indeed.  Here's hoping it stays that way.

My thoughts on last night's episode:

1. Of course psychotic killer/cult leader/English professor (could be redundant?), Joe Carroll, had followers who believed in him.  He was a successful matchmaker, even behind bars.

2. I don't particularly care for new addition Annie Parisse, especially on Person of Interest, but I quite enjoy her character on The Following.  I like this character much better than the one they shipped back to Quantico (for letting Bacon's Ryan Hardy break killer Carroll's fingers).

3.  Part of me wishes they picked a less-famous author than Poe but then I have no suggestion as to who would have worked better.  I'm no English professor (or a cult leader, yet).

4. Raylan Givens would not let this happen to Winona:
and Carroll would most certainly pay if he were on Justified.

5. Lastly, I'm satisfied with the pacing on The Following.  Things happen and the story moves along quite well.  There's action, we learn things about the plot and the characters, and we're assured there's much more to come.  Well done, writers.  Well done.  Oh and the cops/Feds aren't idiots. I can't stand when TV shows or movies make cops into buffoons who can't shoot straight.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Adaptation Angst: Gone Girl

One of last year's most addictive, confounding, provocative, and discussion-worthy novels was Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Now reports are surfacing that David Fincher is in talks to direct the adaptation, which Reese Witherspoon is producing. Fincher is one of my favorite directors (so much so, I've come up with a little nickname for him: "The Finch"--don't tell him if you ever meet him). However, I don't unequivocally love everything he's done. See, for example, Exhibit A: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Which I downright loathed, and which has led me to adopt this rule of thumb concerning his directorial predilections: Fincher Needs a Sociopath.

His finest films, Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac, even the underrated The Game all feature characters that have very little regard for, or even understanding of, the emotional repercussions of their actions on others. They are obsessed with observing and creating reactions, but not overly affected by them internally. And I'm not just talking about the villains here. Think about The Social Network, for my money the finest film of the 2000s. Fincher's Mark Zuckerberg, to put it mildly, is not overly concerned with consequences.

Gone Girl fits the Fincher Paradigm perfectly. It is dark and twisty and complicated and I think he could work wonders with the dual narrative structure of the book. The only reason I'm not placing the angst score at an unprecedented zero is the strong possibility that Reese Witherspoon might cast herself as the titular Girl. I'd be happy to be wrong about this, and if anyone can exploit the flint that undergirds Witherspoon's steel magnolia charm it's the Finch, but I kind of want Jennifer Lawrence.

Angst Level: 1

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

I knew Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was going to be bad.  I kind of wanted it to be bad.  I love bad movies.  My expectations going into the movie were pretty low.  Good news!  They were (very slightly) exceeded.  It could have been worse.  It could have been Conan the Barbarian.  IT COULD HAVE BEEN VAN HELSING!  (side note: I absolutely hated Van Helsing).  Anywhoodle, I'm disappointed that the idea here is a good one (Hansel and Gretel grow up to be witch hunters) but the execution was severely lacking.

There are some complaints I'd like to share and they aren't even about the lack of story or plot or decent dialogue.   I was going to complain about some of the historical inaccuracies like a crank-operated defibrillator, and the use of a Gatling gun but then they just seem so obvious.  Oh and then there's the time that Gretel refers to the local villagers as hillbillies.  That was fun.  But I think my real disappointment was with the action.  It was fast, edited strangely, and I missed a lot of it due to lame camera work.  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a terrible film too but at least the got they action right.

What worked?  Well, in some weird way, I think Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton were just fine as our witch-killing heroes.  Of course I'm biased in that I really like both actors.  And they're professionals.  They seemed to be having fun with some really terrible material so good for them.

The other thing that was cool that they didn't spend enough time with was the witches.  There's a whole gathering of witches and each of them looked very different and very cool.  They could have spent some time with these ladies by introducing them and their powers to us.  The movie claims that witches can't physically hide the effects of working with dark magic.  Each witch had some different stuff going on and I wanted to know if it had something to do with their gifts or the type of magic they practiced.  At a running time of 88 minutes (also a blessing), they could have added in some more story with the witches. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Disharmony" (Angel 2.17): Not the Most Cleverly Titled Episode

Yeah. She's in it.

In a synchronicity that in this case makes Angel suffer mightily by comparison, the Angelites are still processing Angel's return and hope for forgiveness for acting like a dolt for several previous episodes. Wesley makes him sit outside his own office and fetch coffee, and Cordelia tells him they're "not friends." Which, rather touchingly, bothers Angel a lot.

Look. He makes the sad Angel face.

The theme of friendship is central to this episode, because Cordelia is forced to radically reexamine hers with fellow Mean Girl Harmony. So though we're operating in a pre-Facebook world, here's the Angel guide to friending and unfriending vampires.

DO expect to pay your dues. Angel's pre-credit muttering of "atonement's a bitch" is a refreshingly funny take on what tends to be his bete noir. But it's true--Angel spends much of the episode desperately trying to make it up to Wesley, Cordy, and Gunn. By the end, he's succeeded with pretty much all of them.

DON'T be too subtle with Cordelia. Harmony shows up in L.A., post-break-up with Spike, eager to find her purpose. If you think that's a flimsy excuse for a guest spot, you're sort of right, but it does fit into the episode's thematic interest in friendship. Cordelia is genuinely excited to be spending time with Harmony again, and in recovering her powerful and ruthless high school self.

Sorry guys--no be-pantied pillow fight.

However, when Harmony drops subtle hints (you do have to invite me to your house, I'm not the same girl I used to be) and not-so-subtle hints (showing up in Cordy's bedroom at night, talking about how delicious she looks), Cordelia assumes she's a "big lesbo." This rather tasteless attempt at homophobic humor is thankfully defused by the fact that she says it to Willow.


DO look for authenticity. Though this episode is a bit of a throwaway in terms of the season-long arc, the more I think about it, the more tightly it's written (thanks, David Fury). The Monster of This Week is a Tony Robbins-esque vamp motivational speaker and self-help guru, who promotes a pyramid scheme neatly encapsulated by the slogan "turn two, the rest is food."

It's a pitch-perfect parody.

The way these types of groups tend to foster a false sense of intimacy, both emotional and financial, sets us up nicely for . . .

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

DO remember that on this show, a soul matters. And a credit card. Angel warns Cordy that Harmony is bound to turn on her, because she has no soul. The complicated metaphysics of ensoulment on Buffy aside, Angel is right on the money here. Harmony turns the Angelites over to Tony Robbins, and they only narrowly escape (of course--do they ever escape by a wide margin?). Cordy decides to spare Harmony, though they are no longer BFFs. And Angel's last act of interpersonal atonement? He buys Cordelia a ton of clothes. She does a happy dance, in which Angel joins her, in a moment Jenn terms disturbing yet priceless.

And makes the happy Angel face.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Forever" (Buffy 5.17): Mourning Becomes Angel

In Sunnydale, we're still dealing with the fallout from Joyce's death. Which of course makes sense--that sort of trauma isn't shrugged off after forty minutes, but I could see a lesser show not taking the time to as carefully and curiously explore how each character copes with loss. So we're back to the Do's and Don'ts of processing pain.

DON'T be an enormous ass. Buffy's dad apparently has yet to even call his bereaved daughters, or to provide them with reliable contact information, apparently.

Giles NOT talking to Buffy's dad. Also, written and directed by Noxon? Good sign.

That is one of the details about the show that continues to stick in my craw. Though Mr. Summers wasn't perhaps an ideal father in earlier seasons, he was a present one. It seems beyond the pale of even the deadbeatest of dads not to acknowledge this tragedy in anyway. I get that adding another character would probably be more trouble than it's worth, but still.

DON'T be a normal-sized ass, either. We all know Xander has issues expressing pain. It tends to manifest as anger, and that anger is not always directed at an appropriate target. As Jenn puts it, Xander misunderstands and then sounds off. His treatment of Spike, and his genuine attempt to honor Joyce, is unfair.

And he makes Willow make her worried face.

DO remember to celebrate life. Anya and Giles have different ways of indulging this impulse.

Way 1

Way 2 (with "Tales of Brave Ulysses" playing in background).

But it seems an important one that the show endorses. Anya embraces sexual expression, and Giles remembers the day and night he spent re-teenager-ed with Joyce in "Band Candy." Actually, maybe their strategies aren't that different after all.

DO feel the pain. This is a big one, and the episode's major concern. Dawn, brattiness finally justified, understandably seeks a magical solution to her very human hurt. She asks Willow and Tara if there are any spells that could bring her mother back. I think this is a smart moment in the show--for the most part, everyone takes it for granted that the Scoobies live in a world where the supernatural is commonplace. But this moment is an exploration of how that conceit would affect the emotional lives of the characters. Though Tara staunchly refuses, citing the Wiccan directive not to interfere with the natural order of things, Willow helps Dawn. Spike does too.

Not actually helping, part 1.

Not actually helping, part 2. Plus, I felt bad for the monster, who was only trying to protect her eggs.

Both of these characters have and will demonstrate issues with control and processing pain. As Jenn points out, for Willow in particular, the failure to ask "should we" in the name of "can we" is dangerous. The impulse to help Dawn (and Buffy) by bringing Joyce back comes from a good place, but it is a terrible idea. The episode argues for this both in content (What we presume is a zombified Joyce horrifyingly creeping closer to the house as the Summers sisters argue, and Buffy has a much needed emotional breakdown) and structure (the creature Spike consults about the spell, and therefore brings into Dawn's life? Not the last we'll see of him.

Not by a long shot.

DO be present. This is almost a corollary of the above point, but it has a literal embodiment in the episode.

Namely, this body.

Angel can't show up until nightfall, but when he does, he does the only thing that could help Buffy. Sit next to her all night. Everyone experiences and expresses grief differently, and there is often anxiety on the part of all involved (including those closest to the tragedy) to know what to say. Even Buffy doesn't quite know, and instead threw herself into funeral preparations and caretaking. But Angel's appearance, as well as the emotional breakthrough the sisters have, just in time to allow Joyce's body to return to rest, argue less for saying, and more for just being, in the face of terrible pain.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Phoning It In

By Jonathan Alexandratos

Okay so: I don’t want to start by insulting an entire profession.  I want to start by offering that I know, being a professor and a writer, that I can’t afford to insult any profession, especially not one that I’ve once worked in.  As a professor and a writer, my life sort of loops minutes 22-24 of KOYAANISQATSI: a lot of haunting music and foreboding images, but nothing to directly tell you that you’re a hair’s breadth away from toiling in some dungeon in let’s say Boise (no offense) slinging burnt coffee in quasi-personalized cups (“I gotta venti latte for a uh, ‘Geehoan’?”) for the rest of your days.  I do realize this.  So in that context, absorb the following:  working in a call center, as I have done, is the nearest approximation of hell that the Forces of Good (i.e. angels, Karma, Pat Sajak) will allow on God’s Green Earth.  8 typically odd hours a day.  Constant supervision.  All that communication, saying nothing.    

This is why Fisher-Price makes those little plastic telephones for kids, the ones with the Gobstopper colors.  Because they know it’s fun to bullshit.  It’s easy to bullshit.  Callers (alt. “Phoners”), in call centers, know this, too.  That’s why Management installs various devices to make sure that the bullshit you’re spouting isn’t *your* bullshit, but *their* bullshit.  Calls are monitored for frequency, duration, pick-up rate (how many people answer their phone), and quality of content.  Here’s a typical call in what I’ll consider the Caller’s Paradise:

(Sound of telephone ringing…
(Sound of telephone ringing…
(CALLER dicks around in the Internet while looking like he’s one the phone…
(Sound of telephone ringing…
(Sound of ringer just sort of giving up…
(CALLER continues to dick around, phone-to-ear, occasionally breaking to say to a dial tone:)

CALLER:  Uh, yeah, hey, this is so-and-so from such-and-such magazine, would you like to I dunno take a survey for us?

Now that’s pretty obviously bullshit.  Here’s the same call in what let’s think of as the Manager’s Paradise:

(Sound of telephone ri/
(Ring is interrupted by an EAGER CONTACT pretty much right away.)

CALLER:  Hello there sir or madam!  My name is So-and-So I work for such-and-such magazine.  You may have  seen us on a newsstand near you!  We need your help.  See, we’re working on an article about this-or-that and we can’t complete it unless we get feedback from our most vital of customers.  It would mean the world to us if we could use your input.  What do you say?

(Sound of hopeful murmuring on the other end of the line.)

CALLER:  Oh you’ll be such a help, thank you!  It’ll only take a moment…

And off the Caller goes, taking this poor octogenarian on a trip down Bullshit Highway.  Yep, it’s all nonsense, but it’s Managerial Nonsense, so it’s okay.  I’ll call this the Fisher-Price Principle: the notion that the phone is the Most Bullshittable Device Ever Manufactured (MBDEM), and the History of the Call Center can, thus, be written as one giant struggle between plebian and patrician to figure out whose bullshit gets to infest the cobwebby inner workings of nearby MBDEMs.

Now that the above is surely more expounded upon than you ever hoped it would be, I have to say that the way two Canadian films have portrayed the job of calling people has struck me as particularly poetic and illuminative.  Don McKellar’s LAST NIGHT (1998) and Robert Lepage’s FAR SIDE OF THE MOON (2003) both present the call center – or, at least, the for-profit task of calling for a corporate purpose – as a place where every shred of humanity is so regularly marginalized to the extent that, within the contexts of each film, a breaking point is reached, and raw emotion rears its head from under the veritable landfill of industrial-grade bullshit into which it has been exiled.

In McKellar’s LAST NIGHT, Duncan (wonderfully played by David Cronenberg) spends the day before the world ends cold calling every customer of the gas company at which he works to thank them for their years of patronage, and assure them that the company will keep the gas flowing as close to the end as possible.  The office is sterile, and one gets the sense that one’s career there grows in proportion to his detachment from fellow employees.  However, here, on the last day of life as we know it, Duncan’s warmth enlivens his calls, and his final words with office subordinate Donna (played by Tracy Wright, a fine actress who we lost too soon) are, one speculates, the apex of Duncan’s office-contained emotional dialogue.  I won’t spoil the other way in which Duncan’s calls are important – it’s too close to the film’s emotional center – I’ll only hasten to say that, through its treatment of the telephone, LAST NIGHT converts frigid, office dialogue into life-affirming emotion pushed to the surface by the knowledge of the ultimate end to mankind.

Lepage’s FAR SIDE OF THE MOON is slightly different, in that the protagonist in fact works at a call center, and there’s no apocalypse.  Instead, this film is an attempt to “reconcile the infinitely banal with the infinitely essential,” to quote the movie’s main character, André, played by Lepage.  This conflict is LAST NIGHT’s conflict, and the conflict of emotional beings who work in call centers.  The setting is infinitely banal, and it is the mission of the infinitely banal to suppress emotion, the infinitely essential.  The two, I suppose, can be reconciled, but, in call centers, the tendency is toward confrontation.  This happens in Lepage’s film, resulting in André losing his job as a caller, and embarking on the adventure of the movie.  In both, it is essential that the aforementioned characters work in this particular profession, as nothing else (aside from maybe critic – oop!  Sorry!) involves saying so little, by saying so much. 

I am not surprised that LAST NIGHT and FAR SIDE OF THE MOON took such a stance on the call center setting (there isn’t really any other one to take), but I do believe that the way both films were able to make such a mundane, inert setting so theatrically dynamic is cinematically significant.  Lepage’s film was first a play, and that may have contributed to his flair for the theatrical, but, surely, both directors used a device, the phone call, that quite literally chains characters down, knowing that this object, and the profession that most uses it, also has the ability to free.  In the above films, two directors violate a common rule of Playwrighting 101 – don’t put characters on the phone – and do so in a way that creatively allows the non-expository, very dramatic (and poetic) revelation of characters’ wants, needs, and desires.  The phone does not tie them down, it provides a dull sounding board against which their vibrant dreams juxtapose, and are therefore most clearly seen.

There’s more to say about these two stellar films – Lepage’s FAR SIDE OF THE MOON is the basis for my and Tracy’s project BREAKING ORBIT, and is thus a huge influence in my artistic life – but, as of this writing, I’m about 40 minutes out from the start of a class I’m teaching, and I don’t want to tempt the Call Center Furies any more than I already have.  Though, perhaps, as a final thought, consider the following cinematic fortune cookie: creatively utilizing the most stagnant of places can sometimes lead to the most dynamic of scenes.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Last Night's Being Human

"(Dead) Girls Just Want to Have Fun"

I’m trying to make these recaps a bit shorter because I don’t need to recount absolutely everything that happens on the show.  Like Will says, “Brevity is the soul of wit” and wit is a goal of mine so I'm gonna attempt some brevity.  I just love the show and the actors so very much that I want everyone else to love them too.

Xander Berkeley (if you don’t recognize his name, you’ll recognize his face) opens the episode and he’s on a hunt for his son.  He’s under the impression some vampy Amish might have some information about him.  Xander looks off to the side, sees a wolf head tacked to the wall, and gets the unfortunate answer to his question.  After dusting the vampy Amish he vows, to the wolf head, to avenge his death and take out the killer’s loved ones too. 

Sally is back and in a new outfit!  Plus her hair looks very cute.  Apparently they found and unearthed Stevie and Nick and they’re looking pretty good in Josh’s clothes.  Nick is reunited with his girlfriend, Zoe the medium. Stevie wants to see the world so they send him on his way but before he departs, he promises not to kill himself again. 

Josh and Sally reunite with Aidan (yay!) and he’s understandably confused as to why he can hug a now corporeal Sally.  Oh and he notices that Josh doesn’t smell like a dog anymore.  Aidan’s been buried for a year but it seems like some pretty huge things have happened.  Back at the house and Aidan’s beard is gone.  Boo.  They throw out some literary jokes about him looking like a young Mark Twain, etc. and I’m bummed because I think he could have totally rocked a well-tended beard.  Oh well.

Sally is dying to get out of the house but they’re very nervous she could be recognized.  It’s a tv show, so it’s bound to happen, but I’m out all the time and never run into people I know and Charleston is a SMALL town compared to Boston.  Predictably she runs into a guy who cried at her funeral.  She tells him some unbelievable story about how she had to fake her death to get away from her abusive fiancé.  He walks her home, they kiss, she invites him in, but he refuses (huh?).  Apparently he’s not feeling well but would love to take her on a date tomorrow.  The next day he’s found dead on her street.  Uh oh.  Josh surmises that this is part of that clause about not talking to people who knew you before you died.

Aidan is nervous to drink from the blood bags Josh brought home for him because they could be infected.  Josh offers himself but is afraid that if there are still traces of the wolf inside him that it might send Aidan into fits.  So Aidan heads out in search of fresh blood, tries to buy baby blood (really?!?!) and gets beaten up by werewolves because of it.  Hottie Henry swoops in and saves him.  Henry brings him back to his place where he introduces Aidan to his uninfected but also compelled girlfriend, Emma.  Poor Emma hasn’t left the apartment in months because Henry doesn’t want her to risk getting sick.  Aidan is not ok with this and sets her free.  Henry is not ok with that and storms off.
Josh and Nora are sweet as usual.  She wants him to go enjoy his new life as a human and to stop babysitting her during her special time of the month.  No, not that time of the month; the one where the moon is full.  Josh has plans to propose to Nora but Sally doesn’t want him doing it the morning after a shift.  She probably has a point considering Nora will be all tired and bloody, etc.  Remember how Xander Berkeley was in town?  Well he finds Nora in her protective storage locker.  He catches her up on his search for his daughter, Brynn, and his wanting revenge for the death of his son, Connor.  We flashback to how Aidan killed Connor last season and we know it was to protect Josh and Nora but I’m guessing Xander won’t care.  Instead he wants to shift in the storage locker with Nora to find out what kind of wolf she is.  Ooookay.  The next morning, Josh shows up but there’s a huge hole in the door and no Nora inside.  Not good.

The Following

What did you think? Fox has gone all out promoting its new creepy drama so did you bite? Will you keep watching even if there’s a chance Fox will cancel it before any sort of resolution? Are you wondering, like I am, how a show like this could sustain a story over multiple seasons?

I really enjoyed The Following and think it’s a well-done television show. Personally I don’t see how the viewer wouldn’t get tired of this story over multiple seasons but I’m willing to give it a chance. There were some nice twists that I didn’t see coming. The pilot did a good job of balancing the big story with dips into the characters’ lives. I’m curious and excited and can’t wait until the next episode. I like where it’s going and I hope that enough people are too. Fox is well-known for axing shows before they see a proper end. Heck, the joke about Fringe lasting so long because star Anna Torv is the niece of Fox owner, Rupert Murdoch, might actually have some truth to it. Here’s hoping The Following’s star Kevin Bacon has some pull too because I’d really like to see where the show is going.

One hesitation I have is that they maybe showed their cards too early with a couple of the supporting characters. There’s one FBI agent in particular that I’m wary of and I’m hoping he/she is a red herring and not up to what I think they’re up to. Some of the characters, especially the main two, are a bit of a stereotype but it works and I’m not going to hold it against the show.

Before I go any further here’s the story: Former FBI agent and now consultant, Ryan Hardy (played by Kevin Bacon), is chasing after an enigmatic serial killer, Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy). Carroll, a charismatic English professor obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe and romantic literature, had been caught once before but starts the episode by escaping prison. Hardy, who had been absolutely obsessed with Carroll, isn’t physically able to be a field agent but is brought in as a consultant because no one knows Carroll better.

Another good thing about the show is the cast. I’ve mentioned Kevin Bacon, who was good overall but maybe went a little overboard in a few instances. The supporting cast was solid and even the presence of Maggie Grace didn’t annoy me. But my favorite was Purefoy. You need to believe that Carroll could command an army of followers because he’s worthy of following. Personally I’d follow Purefoy just about anywhere. He was on this great NBC show called The Philanthropist. Purefoy stared as the titular character who travelled the world giving away his money to folks in need. Unfortunately the cost of the show and the lack of audience meant cancellation. It’s too bad because Purefoy was pretty great on it and I enjoyed seeing him on a weekly series. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that The Following gets the audience it deserves and stays on the air a while.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I saw Mama yesterday because Guillermo del Toro produced it and if he did then that means he wants us to see it. Plus this movie Guillermo del Toro wanted us to see also happened to star Jamie Lannister. BONUS!!! Scratch that...a bearded Jamie Lannister. DOUBLE BONUS!!!  Plus Guillermo isn't one to push those torture porn movies on us so I was totally on board.

Star Jessica Chastain (how many movies does she make a year?) is an incredibly un-maternal bassist in a rock band. Her boyfriend, the aforementioned golden Lannister, is her artist boyfriend who spends his time and money searching for his lost nieces. You see, the girls have spent five years in a cabin in the woods. No, not that Whedon cabin but another one. The girls go to live with Uncle Jamie and a badly wigged Chastain but they don't go alone. And that's where the fun begins.

The wig was pretty dang scary too
The story wasn't terribly new but it and the plot worked fine. The performances were solid from most of the cast (does Chastain ever do bad work?). The two girls were pretty great and the main reason the movie worked and was so entirely creepy.

Anywhoodle I cant think of much more to say really. If you did see it send me a message. I want to get your impression about that moth at the end.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why I Can't Stop Watching Girls

I've seen the first season of Girls, the HBO brainchild of twenty-six-year-old writer/director Lena Dunham, twice, and was rabid with excitement to see the premiere of season 2 last Sunday (thanks for the HBO Go, Nat!). This, despite not liking some of the characters all of the time, and all of the characters some of the time. The titular quartet, Dunham's Hannah, along with best friend and roommate Marnie, "cool girl" Jessa, and neurotic Shoshanna, are oftentimes self-involved, arrogant, cruel (to themselves and others) and clueless. So why do I watch? I think it has something to do with nostalgia.

Not the kind of nostalgia that Jonathan detailed in his post about why we love today the shows we loved as kids. Girls is nothing like what I watched as a kid, and nothing, really, like that *other* show featuring four women in New York City that initially seemed to be the go-to basis for critical comparison, Sex and the City. Rather than the pleasurable nostalgia of revisiting loved objects, the show for me provokes the kind of self-recognition that is so familiar, it's painful--sort of like the sore tooth your tongue can't help but return to, just to make sure it still hurts.

Girls looks at a stage of life, for both the male and female characters, where the desire to express oneself verbally and artistically is on the one hand able to be fulfilled completely for perhaps the first time (without the censorious eye of family or the conforming eye of high school/college social circles), but on the other hand crippled by emotional immaturity and lack of experience. Hannah and her friends and lovers are in their mid to late twenties, dealing with the sorts of losses (of first loves, first jobs, and, crucially, parental financial support) that they lack the language to adequately handle or process. Hannah, especially, talks all the time. About herself, her difficult relationship with her complicated sort-of boyfriend Adam, her writing, her jealousy. But she doesn't do so in a way that explores or exposes the stories she's been telling herself about herself, and how those stories contribute to her frustrations. This also goes for Marnie's inability to make a clean break from her college sweetheart, Jessa's aggressive non-conformity, and Shoshanna's virginity. And this is incredibly frustrating, to watch and for the other characters to listen to, but it's also achingly, embarrassingly, familiar.

This is more personal than I usually get in this forum, but Girls is a show that makes its breakfast in the personal. So I also have to admit that Lena Dunham's decision to make Hannah's naked body a frequent and unapologetic feature on the show is particularly meaningful to me. I've struggled with my weight for as long as I can remember, and when I picture myself, I picture myself looking like Hannah. The way that that her "unconventional" (by Hollywood standards) body is shown enjoying sex, and being enjoyed sexually by others (i.e., men who have "conventional' [by Hollywood standards] physical frames), is something I've at least not quite seen before in pop culture. Hannah's body is not a joke, or a liability over which she obsesses, but it's also not unremarked upon by other characters. During the lead-up to a gut-wrenching fight, Marnie (conventionally attractive by any standard) agrees to lend Hannah one of her dresses, though "it'll probably be tight on you." Dunham's treatment of Hannah's, and therefore, her own, physical self is one I am deeply grateful for.

So, though I think some of the situations contrived, and the treatment of race and class not as complicated as it might be, Girls seems to be something I can't quit, because it would feel like disavowing an imperfect, but undeniable, part of my past, and myself.

Bigelow Slighted for Zero Dark Thirty? Nat's Take

Post Oscar-nods, the media collectively sighed over "slights." These included everything from the inane (really, you thought McBongo was going to get a nod for Magic Mike?) to the clueless (if the Academy hasn't winked at Nolan for Batman Begins or Dark Knight or freaking Memento, Dark Knight Rises didn't have a prayer; and The Avengers nomination was never gonna happen) to the I'm apparently the only one in the world who saw that coming: Kathryn Bigelow didn't get a director nod for Zero Dark Thirty.

Upon first seeing press for the film, I lamented that she'd become the "war chick" and would get pigeonholed or passed over for recognition because of her sticking to genre. I might have been the only person to think that. I may also be the only person in the world who thinks she doesn't deserve a nod for Zero Dark Thirty.

Some perspective: I really respect The Hurt Locker. I can't say I enjoyed it because she did an excellent job at portraying that soulless dead inside compelled to stare at the freezer section tic gained from the intense pressure of almost dying on a regular basis. That movie was worthy of an Oscar.

Different perspective: I remember exactly where I was when Obama announced that bin Laden had been killed. Exactly. I don't remember where I was when the planes hit on 9/11--that day was a confusing mishmash of classes and second-hand reports.

The first few minutes of Zero Dark Thirty are some of the most chilling on film: a completely black screen with 9/11 phone calls playing, static-y, terrified, helpless, pleading . . . And then we're immediately tossed into a torture scene. That's problematic on a lot of levels, the most immediate is that the juxtaposition seems an immediate endorsement of the use of torture in interrogation  a "they did that so we can do this" logic that is at once childish and extraordinarily dangerous. The film never takes an explicit position against torture--the closest it gets is to say, with an eye roll, that the torture has to stop because the Obama administration says so.

But that's not why the film is problematic.

A minor note for the movie as a whole but a major strike against Bigelow for director is the inclusion of title slides that populate the last half of the film with "pithy" titles like "Tradecraft" and "Canaries." The titles do nothing to further the film and only pull catchphrases from the dialogue immediately after the title, like a freshman trying to take up more room on a page by inserting titles. And, while not furthering the film, they actively work to snap the viewer *out* of the film. So any tension or emotion built is immediately deflated.

That could lead to a rollercoaster of a viewing but, unfortunately, the film never builds much tension or emotion. The film lacks emotional heft of any sort. There is none of that complicated emotion that came with learning that bin Laden was dead and SEALS had killed him. The lead, Maya played as well as can be by Jessica Chastain, does not engage the viewer. I understand the years long toil to produce even the tiniest smidgen of a lead. I understand that the job of the CIA was not terribly exciting. I understand that. Really. I do. But, this isn't a documentary, as is evidenced by the fact that the screenplay was almost finished before bin Laden was killed. And the "boring" doesn't play out well because it's not well done. I'm on board with procedural films but Zero Dark Thirty is also not about procedure, or even the lack thereof. What the film needed to do, if you'll excuse my armchair directing, was to build the psychological drama within Maya. The film so desperately wants to show that she's a woman obsessed--that she's lost friends! even (although we don't really see these friendships)--but the dryness of the script just leads me to believe that her job is similar to mine: research with no life/death consequences. I know that's not the truth and Bigelow needed to show me how Maya's job is more important (it is) and how, as an obsessed woman, this plight ate away at her soul, psyche, emotions, wardrobe, something . . . anything.

But it doesn't.

By the time we get the dark, vague, strange-angled shot of a dead bin Laden, I was so violently bored that I didn't care. I certainly felt none of the emotion I felt on the historical night. I felt nothing when Maya opens the body bag to verify the identity. I felt nothing when Maya cries. I felt nothing other than anger that Bigelow got it so wrong. While I could easily argue that it's just too soon, Zero Dark Thirty is simply too little.

Being Human Season 3!

 "It's a Shame About Ray" 

Our friends, Aidan, Sally and Josh, are in the kitchen having a discussion about death.  Sally and Josh insist we all have to die someday.  Aidan, who is already sort of dead, counters that he’s not going to die.  Wait a tick, this isn’t right.  This isn't how we left everyone at the end of last season!  Then we see that this conversation is a hallucination and instead, Aidan is buried deep underground and fully bearded (love the beard!).  Oh and he’s freaking out a bit, understandably.

Being Human is back, y’all and I hope you’re watching. 

Nora is visiting another psychic in a long line of psychics because she is trying to contact someone dearly departed.  The psychic does her stuff and we cut to a handy-dandy flashback that acts as a “previously on Being Human.”  We get to see what happened to Josh, Nora and Josh’s maker, Ray at the end of last season.  If you don’t remember, the theory was that if they killed Ray, Josh and Nora could break their wolfy curse.  So they killed Ray but we don’t know if it worked.  Luckily for the psychic, she doesn’t see the gruesome flashback but instead sees that Josh and Nora are totally good for each other, blah, blah, blah.  As it turns out they’ve been trying to contact Sally who is stuck in limbo.  Speaking of…poor Sally and her two ghost buddies, Stevie and Nick, are stuck together.  Sally keeps unsuccessfully trying to get into the house.  Nick and Stevie keep unsuccessfully trying to talk her out of it.

At the hospital (where Josh and Nora work), Josh is questioning vamps about Aidan and his whereabouts.  The interesting this is that the vamps have all been showing up at the hospital as patients (instead of being there to feed) with these really gross lesions.  We flashback to see Josh and Nora on the first full moon after offing Ray.  This is so exciting!  Did it work?!?!  For Josh?  Yes.  Yay!!!  For Nora?  Not so much.  Boo!!!  Geeze, that sucks.  So I guess she’d have to kill Josh to break her own curse, right?  It’s too bad the law of transference didn’t work in this instance.  They’ve got another psychic en route but she refuses to even enter their house.  Um, no kidding.  Plus she’s been there before (during Sally’s exorcism).  There’s bad juju in that house and Ms. Psychic knows better.  Plus she tells them that bringing Sally back isn’t so simple.  Nora pleads with her and Ms. Psychic tells them to visit a Ms. Gilchrist who may help.

Meanwhile Sally pulls Nick out of the water (he’s back to his daily drowning schedule) and cuts Stevie down from a tree (he’s now killing himself every day and in places where he can watch his family go on with their lives).  The madness must end.  Josh and Nora find Ms. Gilchrist, er Donna, at a soup kitchen.  She’s up for it as long as they have $2,000 and a heart.  Oh and the heart has to be from someone they’ve killed.  It’s a good thing they’re murders!  Oh and they aren’t just bringing back her ghost.  They’re brining Sally back completely.  Like dig up her body because she will be rejoining it completely.  Whoa.

Donna wants to make sure they know she won’t be quite the same.  She’ll be like an aware zombie with emotions and stuff.  But she absolutely can’t have reunions with loved ones.  No contact whatsoever with folks from her past.  Yeah, I’m sure they’ll stick to that rule.  In limbo, Sally, Nick and Stevie are giving the door to the house one more shot.  Nick and Stevie are giving the whole talking her out of it thing one more shot too.  Except that the door opens ever so slightly this time.  Sally, the dear that she is, encourages the boys to come with her through the door.  Yeah, that’ll go well. 

Josh and Nora are keeping vigil and suddenly her body starts breathing.  Sure, she’s wrapped up like a mummy and covered in bits of heart from dead Ray but she’s breathing.  Somehow they have moved Sally’s body home now and are still watching her as she breathes.  She mumbles a bit and they know she’s awake now.  This is creepy, even if it means Sally’s back.  They unwrap her and the corpse is gone and has been replaced by lovely Sally instead.  She’s having trouble talking  but manages to squeak out the words Stevie and Nick.  Josh, bless him, hears something about Stevie Nicks coming back with her (my friend Dana tells me this was an ad-lib from Sam Huntington and it makes me love him more; even if he doesn’t have a beard).  It dawns on Josh that she’s referring to Stevie and Nick and that they’ve been brought back too.  Hey, they got three ghosts for the price of one.  Except, are they back in their own bodies?  Their bodies, which are still currently buried?  Yipes!

Lastly, we see Donna out in the woods and she’s pouring one out for her homies.  Actually she’s pouting out the rest of the witchy brew made with Ray’s heart.  The liquid starts flowing in one direction and she follows it.  Right. To. Ray’s. Grave.  Crap.  We don’t need him back.  And he’d be back as a ghost, right?

While all that was going on with Josh, Nora and Sally, poor Aidan has been having quite a day.  I mentioned the beard, right?  Well it’s worth mentioning twice.  He’s uncovered by a stake wielding dude who fits Aidan with some sort of torture helmet straight out of the Saw movies.  This will go well.  Aidan and his very special helmet awaken to get a glimpse of his new digs.  Then he passes out again.  Not that I’d offer to feed him, per se, but dude is very obviously starving to death.  I could not abide that.  Plus, I mentioned the beard RIGHT?!?!  Aidan’s kidnapper is draining his blood (like he has any to spare) and all the while is rambling about people paying big money because he’s pure.  Odd. 

A bit later, Aidan’s captor is making a deal for some blood and the deal goes pear-shaped.  The captor dude is now dead and we’re joined by the creepy Amish dude from last season.  He takes Aidan away from the helmet and creepy basement but doesn’t seem to be in a good mood about the whole thing.  Oh and he stops Aidan from drinking any of the blood that’s just hanging around because he’ll get sick.  They’re in a van and creepy Amish guy catches Aidan on what’s been going on since he’s been buried.  Vamps are getting sick and dying (again) from feeding on tainted humans.  I’m liking the potential of this storyline. 

Aidan is hallucinating again and is having a conversation with Sally, Josh and Bishop who are all in the van with him and creepy Amish dude.  Bishop is trying to encourage him to fight to save himself.  Too bad Aidan is done fighting.  He’s over it.  Bishop gives it one last try and convinces Aidan as well as Sally and Josh.  So Aidan gathers all his strength, which isn’t much, and tries to fight creepy Amish dude.  It doesn’t work.  Instead, creepy Amish dude feeds on Aidan and is really bummed when it doesn’t cure him.  Then he dies.  Yay!  Unfortunately now Aidan is stuck in the middle of nowhere and the van has crashed into a pole.  This seems like the end for Aidan but no.  ‘Cause remember at the beginning he was convinced he wasn’t going to die (again)?  He’s muttering to himself, while lying on the ground near the van, that he’s going to live.  Hallucinogenic Sally and Josh are there to watch him slowly die from his blood loss.  But then Birdie is singing “Skinny Love” and Aidan is just not giving up.

Hang in there, bearded Aidan!