Thanksgiving

I like Thanksgiving. It’s a free holiday for me. I get to call into a friend’s house and eat turkey, but I don’t have to do any family stuff, because my family is a continent away. Hey, I like family stuff; Christmas is my favourite time of the year. There’s a lot to be said, though, for a huge meal, an excuse to drink beer in the day time and a warm and loving family environment that you can politely leave and head back to your own life. The problem with family holidays, as numerous holiday season films HILARIOUSLY document, is that over time the pressure builds, you revert to old habits and fights break out. Thanksgiving is perfect for me because I get to visit while everyone is in a great and loving mood.

I am also utterly convinced that the American decision to have two turkey dinners in the space of one month is the secret to the United States’ status as a superpower. What’s your excuse, Canada?

In other news, I wrote another post for the rather excellent website for grown-ups who like a cocktail with their helping of young adult literature, FYA. See you there when that goes up.

Oh, and by the way, hook ‘em.

Commenting on Commentaries

I love the Internet. It gives us things like this:

 

Ok. Technically, John Milius, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a youtube user called “shastatheragdoll” gave us this. Beyond that, I discovered the video thanks to a user named “lightninglouie” on io9. In turn, io9 had posted an excellent clip of Arnie expounding on his role in Total Recall, where he also decides to explain in bewildering detail his character’s actions and the environment surrounding his character. Things we can already see, or already saw in the film, assuming you’re not some kind of crazy person who watches a film with the commentary on before you watch the film itself.

I love the Internet. I do. Sometimes though, it makes me sad. I really like commentaries on films. At some point, it was inevitable that I would get around to Total Recall. I’m thoroughly stunned by Arnie’s approach to commentaries. Hopefully, there’s some other input than “my guy is doing X right now, LOOK!” but I’m doubtful.

Commentaries are fantastic. The actor commentary on much derided Stephen Sommers CLASSIC (no sarcasm) Van Helsing was one of my early favourites. It essentially involves most of the headline actors beyond Hugh Jackson and Kate Beckinsale reflecting on their experience shooting the film. This includes the revelation that Richard Roxburgh met his wife (Sylvia Colloca) on set and that David Wenham’s nick name was, mystifyingly, Daisy.

They call me… Daisy.

Commentary tracks on films are also great for working from home, or exercising at home, or basically doing anything that allows you to occasionally look at the TV but doesn’t require you to be watching the whole time. Radio with visual support, really. Of course, they also suck for working at home because it’s yet another excuse to be working. Let’s not allow that to sully our view of commentaries however. They’re fab.

Some are overly technical, some just sound bored, some (like our dear Arnie’s attempt) are unable to step back from the material and actually tell us something interesting. My least favourite are often those by the actors themselves. When actors are relaxed and having fun and confident in their own work, the actor commentaries are the best. Often, unfortunately, these commentaries end up being soporific beyond belief. Actors will then be the absolute worst, basically resorting to complimenting each other incessantly or, worse, kissing the ass of the lead actor successful enough not to be participating in the commentary. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. These are the kind of people who think we take the Oscars seriously. (HINT: Nobody takes the Oscars seriously anymore.)

 My personal favourite moment from a commentary comes courtesy of director John G. Avildsen, who while reflecting on Stallone’s cooperative nature and helpfulness on the first Rocky film noted that it was completely unlike his experience with Rocky V, when Stallone remained in his trailer between takes like the “prince of Lichtenstein”. Frankly, I wish more people on commentaries would take a moment to generally bad mouth and call out people in the industry. Sure, it would be tasteless and immature, but hey, I don’t know these people. It would be entertaining for me!

Now to go and order that Total Recall DVD…

A Quick and Personal Reaction to The Dark Tower Series

The Dark Tower series of books by Stephen King are a fairly important group of novels for me personally. I overcame a considerable amount of snobbishness towards King’s work to read them, and as a result I’ve become a lot less snobby about genre fiction in general, though I am by no means cured.

The thing is, my snobbishness had been born of my university education in the first place, and so rather than guide my tastes towards various classics, my instincts guided me away from reading more or less anything. I can’t stand a lot of what passes for contemporary high fiction, because it’s inherently classist and defined to a great extent by your connections with or attractiveness to the literary aristocracy as it currently stands. People who have degrees in English and think this qualifies them to put their opinions ahead of the opinions of others. Sometimes it does; most often it doesn’t.

So, I had restricted my reading to very little indeed, judging almost everything as not good enough or as too elitist. I pretty much just read Hemingway over and over again for ten years. Clearly, I like Hemingway. But, you know… one needs more.

I had long considered King to be fun, but rather rubbish. I had read The Stand years earlier, and I think the only reason I didn’t find the end of that novel utterly offensive and infuriating was that I had more or less given up on taking King’s writing seriously about eighty pages in to the book. King is guilty of a multitude of sins. Take, for example an admittedly tongue in cheek representation of King’s habits in characterization:

 

[Character name] was a jumbled collection of overused adjectives and odd cultural references, a clear personification of a standard pop culture stereotype or template (nerd, rebel, neighbourhood pretty girl) or a flat out and specifically referenced allusion to a major pop culture figure.

He lived in Maine.

 

King also has a rather infuriating habit of not bothering with character development, simply stating relationships and attitudes as facts and moving forward. Therefore, he informs the reader that character A loves character B, that A will be devoted to B forever (or at least for the duration of the novel) and from now on please remember that all dialogue between A and B or events involving A or B will reference this fact. I find this a really jarring experience. Rather than grow with characters or see them gradually intersect and intertwine through shared experience, the reader is told the relationship exists, or at least will exist fairly soon, and goes from there.

These faults (and many, many others) abound in the Dark Tower series. Yet I loved the Dark Tower series. I really, really loved reading it, and will probably return to it before too long. The joy of reading and re-reading, of adventures and of reading being an entirely pleasurable experience akin to the way I read as a child, came flooding back with this series. It was a particularly serendipitous choice for me. I had already decided to make 2011 the year I began to read fiction again, and the Dark Tower series took up the first couple of months of the year, and convinced me where (and indeed, how) I wanted to go next. What was so good about it? A huge number of things, to be honest, not least being the surprise of thinking more of King himself.

One thing the Dark Tower is not, is a fluke. As I progressed through the books, I was continually surprised by King’s mastery of a story that seemed to spin out of control pretty early in the narrative. Three books into the series, I was beginning to wonder how it would all end… if it would even end. At least I knew there was a conclusion to the series; the series’ development must have been a nightmare for those who became invested in King’s saga early and had to wait years at a time for the next installment. Ultimately, although the end of the entire series was contentious for some, I was happy. King wrapped things up. It made sense.

This has gone on long enough, really; I intend to write on each of the books at some point in the next few months. On the whole, though, I’m grateful to the Dark Tower series (and to Meredith for recommending it in the first place!). It made me throw off the pretentious shackles that had prevented me from reading things I wanted to like anyway, and showed me that I could still sit down with a good book and let my imagination run and run, being fed by someone else’s imagination. An experience shared with millions. Yeah, books are rad. As much as I like making fun of Stephen King (and as this post makes clear, I really like doing that) he created a story that transfixed me, that moved me and that inspired me to keep reading. So yes, the Dark Tower books are pretty important books for me.

Breaking Dawn, Part 1: A Reaction

** NOTE This post was actually written to be posted on Forever Young Adult, and I just copied it here because it’s my blog. If you like YA lit and found this post through a Google search and don’t know about FYA, you really need to go and check that site out. Even if this review upsets you. **

 

I like the Twilight films. I like them a lot. I just don’t like them as they are intended to be enjoyed. I laugh at Twilight films a lot. Belly laughs. Horrified laughs. Laughs of disbelief. This isn’t me trying to be “too cool” for the series; I’m clearly not in the target market for this fiction. I came to this film series out of curiosity and I have stayed for the audacious level of awfulness that pervades it. This post is a reaction to the latest installment. I have never read the books, and I have no plans to do so. Ever. EVER. Thanks to the Internet, I had a fair idea of what was coming to me. It was part of the experience. I’m not sure if a spoiler alert is even necessary here, really, but I may as well make it clear: I am going to write in detail about specific scenes in this dog’s dinner of a film. It’s not a review, and it’s not quite a rant. It’s a reaction.

The Twilight film we’ve all been waiting for, when Kristen Stewart transforms into Avril Lavigne.

Breaking Dawn assumes the crown of best/worst Twilight movie. It’s a masterpiece, really. Despite the low depths to which the earlier films gleefully plunged, despite the unrivalled ability of the two principal actors to make a scene feel like they have the ability to slow down time itself to fit in more boredom, and despite my preparedness (oh, damn my hubris!) for really crazy gender issues, this film ensured my jaw remained solidly open for long stretches of time. Nothing that has come before this in the series is even remotely as insane as what happens in this film. The male characters have never been creepier, the vampire characters have never been more bland or less interesting, the central character of the entire series has never been more infuriating and, frankly, never been more outrageously political in a way that I am not sure belongs in fiction aimed at young girls. Well no, allow me to correct myself. I am completely sure that politics like this (read: extreme) should not be in fiction aimed at young people of either gender.

Let’s get started then… The film starts with Bella being awkward (aww… bless!) in some high heels while Edward Cullen stands on a balcony looking forlorn and, crucially, ignoring the central character of the story, the woman he is about to marry. He just stands there looking out on to the veranda while his weird doctor “dad” carries wooden benches around on one shoulder. Incidentally, this begs the question, yet again, of just how stupid the residents of Forks have to be. We are way beyond Clark Kent and spectacles at this point. I mean, there has to be some kind of construction industry or events management in the Forks area, right? It’s a small town. There’s probably one contractor and everyone would know who it is. He or she would be upset they didn’t get set-up job for the Cullen wedding. Ok, only a few hours’ work, but hey it’s cash, and who did they get to move all that equipment and vintage wooden furniture that we are supposed to think grows naturally in the wild in Washington?

Anyway. Sorry.

So, Edward then turns up in Bella’s bedroom, because this is considered completely normal at this point and has been their standard courting procedure for four films now. He then does the forlorn thing and tries to talk her out of marrying him. The night before the wedding. He doesn’t deserve her, and this upsets him so much that he wants to make sure that her big day is ruined by him complaining. This is a theme, by the way. There’s more, though; he is not undeserving because of the usual fake humblebrag reasons, but because he has a murky vampire human-killing past. You see, Edward was a crime-fighting vampire, who would stalk nineteenth century American towns solving crimes, feeding only on would-be rapists and attackers. This horrifies him, because he’s the worst vampire ever, and has absolutely no effect on Bella whatsoever, because she doesn’t care about human life and just wants to make sure that Edward is comfortable and that he has everything he wants. Meanwhile I’m waiting for the flashback where he’s wearing a full on deerstalker a la Sherlock Holmes. It’s beyond terrible, makes no sense, was admittedly quite funny, and serves absolutely no purpose in this film except to show that Edward is an inconsiderate idiot who is constantly creating drama for no reason. Again: this is a theme.

 

So, the wedding happens, and to be honest, I found it very boring. Meyer’s cameo was pretty hilarious. The “first kiss” is predictably gross, and all I could think of was how young people today probably haven’t seen the scene in The Wedding Singer where Drew Barrymore describes a socially acceptable wedding kiss. Pro tip, kids: don’t make out on the altar. It’s gross. At the wedding ceremony, Edward brings Bella out to meet Jacob, because he’s understanding and he’s so secure in their love, and he can’t pass up the opportunity to have a huge amount of drama on the day that he is getting married. Jacob gets upset because Bella and Edward will do sex on their honeymoon, and this will kill Bella. Bella, in what is another theme in this film, is fairly convinced that the power of human will triumphs over scientific fact. Now that I think of it, Bella Swan has a lot more in common with Mao Zedong than I realized. Shortly after a meaningless shouting match, more guests get upset, and as is traditional at a wedding, share this with the young couple directly, because it’s not like this is an important day or anything. Then everyone gets together to cheer the fact that this guy is taking an 18 year old girl into his Volvo and driving her to a secret location. Bella’s dad points this out, and how we all laugh. Silly Charlie. They’re in love! Everything will be ok!

This secret location, after a risible detour into Rio de Janeiro where we establish that poverty is a fascinating aspect of The World Outside America and pretty people make out in public, is an island that the vampires own. They have their own island. This has never been mentioned. This family has the means to charter their own private jets, they own a speedboat, and they own an island, and they have never mentioned this. How have they never mentioned that they own an entire island? Complete, of course, with a beautiful house and quaint native American house helpers, who walk around speaking Spanish and performing admirably as typically racist caricatures. Then, Edward and Bella have sex. It’s hilarious.

From this point on, it is made abundantly clear that the male characters in this film are creepy, possessive jerks. In the previous film, this was mostly implied. Blindingly obvious, but implied. In Breaking Dawn… So, after the obligatory sex has been conducted, Bella is reminiscing about how AMAZING it was when Edwards points out that she has bruises lining her arms. She points out that she doesn’t care, that she loves him and the sex was good, and I really don’t have the strength to get into all of that. It’s creepy. What is more creepy, in my opinion, is that Edward then expresses remorse and refuses to have sex with her for the rest of the honeymoon. So, let’s get this straight: the groom finally yields to his bride’s insatiable (and let’s face it, sinful) urges, but then decides to use sex as a weapon against her by denying it to her for the next two weeks. Really.

Look at her, playing chess in her little hot pants. TRAMP.

Then, Bella is somehow magically pregnant. I say “magically” because this is treated as the biggest plot twist in modern fiction. Basically, we have been subjected for years now to a story about werewolves whose clothes magically grow back after transformations Hulk-style, vampires with iridescent diamond skin, and a weird Vampire-led illuminati operating out of Italy, and the biggest shock in the series is that an 18 year old woman got pregnant after she had sex? This is a joke, right? I mean, we’re all in on this one, aren’t we? RIGHT???  Edward’s reaction to this is to immediately become a caricature of the evil boyfriend who rejects God and worships abortion doctors. There is a lot of grabbing the phone away from Bella, yelling at her for being the reason that sex is inherently bad (pay attention, ladies!) and bringing in previously mentioned racist caricatures to glower at her and cry out in Portuguese. The subtitles claim she was saying “Death!” but we all know she was really pointing out that Bella is a massive whore for having sex and that the cycle of life is profane.

This film turns into a very badly written political discussion piece on abortion. Really. I mean… Why would you do that? One of the most divisive issues in modern society, and you introduce it into fiction written for teenage girls? What? For no reason whatsoever, Bella and Edward now swap positions on the value of life. Bella suddenly starts talking about her baby and how the baby must live no matter what. At one point they tell her that she will die and the baby won’t make it anyway and she decides to try anyway because, you know, life is a miracle and like, she loves the baby so much, you know, and like… It’s really, really awful. Incidentally, I am not making any assumptions about the “correct” position in this argument. I just know this argument shouldn’t be happening in this film. At one point, characters actually take positions in an astonishingly badly written debate on whether or not abortion is wrong. It’s truly bizarre.

Meanwhile, the film has been busy introducing characters that I’ve never heard of while introducing subtle hints that pedophilia is an acceptable practice if you’re a werewolf. I wish I was joking. The best scene of the series so far, by a country mile, brings us a mad fevered dream of a run through the forest by a werewolf that ends with some kind of Model UN meeting between a bunch of CGI wolves having a heated discussion telepathically. There’s a lot of yelling while these wolves mug for the camera, and nothing really gets resolved, except that for some reason the entire werewolf community has gotten involved in this idiot’s (Jacob’s) teen drama. Also, there’s some kind of doggy face-off and power struggle, but the whole thing has less gravitas than a Beethoven film.

As the film is coming to an end, the filmmakers suddenly introduce some horror elements, and actually almost make it interesting. Bella drinks blood milkshakes, and it’s extremely disgusting and pretty cool. She has also by this time become horrifically emaciated. The whole “physical horror of childbirth” thing actually has a bit of a theme going for a while. Then there’s a deliberately vague scene that glosses over the disturbing specifics of the child’s birth, Jacob falls in love with a baby, and Edward injects an enormous syringe into Bella to try and save her life, then biting her all over her body including at least one rude place. It’s really, really odd. Also, werewolves turn up and they have another conversation and they explain that now that Jacob loves the baby, they can’t attack because pedophilia is the most important component of werewolf culture. Why they can’t murder everyone there EXCEPT the baby and Jacob, and then live happily ever after except for a weird conversation on adoption and parenthood at Thanksgiving dinner at some point down the road, is never adequately explained.

Also, I want to post a pro tip for my fellow dudes out there, particularly the younger dudes who may actually be in a “love triangle.” Hey, I’ve been in one or two. First of all, there is no love triangle. There is a person in the middle who likes attention. Secondly, if you marry a girl and she insists that this other dude be included at all times, and she wants to name your first born after him (unless it’s a girl, then she’ll make up an embarrassingly stupid name instead), you should leave her. Because guy, I’m telling you right now, she’s planning for a few “mistakes” after too much wine going forward. You know, while you’re out of town, attending the vampire conference?

I think the weirdest thing about this film is that despite all of the madness I just described, and more that I did not describe, I walked out of the cinema feeling like nothing had really happened. I suppose, what did happen? A teenager got married, got pregnant, refused to include her father (or her mother) in an extremely important moral and medical decision, and then some werewolves shouted at each other. This series is insane. Bring on Part 2.

Sons of Anarchy is going a bit off the rails

I don’t watch a lot of television. Frankly, I need to devote what precious time I have after work for cultural consumption to whatever books, video games and films I can get my hands on. Sons of Anarchy has, however, proved a worthy exception. What a show this has been. Really great storylines have been crafted around characters that are for the most part utterly irredeemable. The show seems to particularly relish building up some form of sympathy for a character, some sign of decency that we can hold on to, just so that it can remind us that all of the characters in this show are real, concrete, and products of this community defined by violence and crime. You know. They’re jerks.

 It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been totally fine with a bunch of weaknesses in the overall show. The whole Irish storyline has been a bit all over the place. Admittedly, it’s a bit difficult to get too upset with the decision to completely over-estimate the role of the Real IRA in present day Northern Irish politics (or even criminal politics) and international gun running, when it’s a fantastic example of pretty impressive creative license. No, my main issue with the Irish storylines is the puzzling decision to have actual, genuine Irish actors on the show with good accents, and then very important and central characters played by actors who couldn’t do an Irish accent to save their lives. I still don’t know what Jimmy O was talking about half the time, and I grew up about ten minutes’ drive from his character’s main turf.

I’ve even put up with the whole Tara thing. Really, they could have just killed Tara off a long time ago. I mean, does anybody REALLY care about Tara? Wouldn’t we all prefer to just see Jax off doing his biker thing without having to stop once a show and either express adolescent declarations of love or cry? Sons of Anarchy is at its best when the guys are doing insane things. Also, Tig should probably be the main character. In fact, Kim Coates should share top billing with Ron Perlman. Perlman is the reason I came to the show in the first place. If it were up to me, I would have had Jax and Tara killed off in some kind of huge explosion, leaving Tig and Clay to travel the back roads of California, solving mysteries and beating the crap out of bad guys. Like an incredibly violent hybrid of the A-Team and Scooby Doo, with bikers. And Ron Perlman and Kim Coates.

 

Look at this picture: Ron Perlman is awesome. Thanks to him, and a great cast in general, I’ve watched the SAMCRO boys run around with automatic rifles, set off massive explosions, travel to Ireland and somehow settle a major dispute within a (supposedly) well established terrorist organization and generally be bad ass in as many different ways as the writers could imagine. It’s been great. Over the last couple of weeks though, things have gone too far.

I believe Clay is a dirt bag. I do. I also understand that he’s motivated by fear, that he doesn’t want to lose his club, and that greed is a lot closer to the motives for these guys than any of them will admit. However, his recent turn to villainy has been way, way too direct and doesn’t make a ton of sense. Perlman is doing the best that he can, but I can’t help but feel that the writers are trying too hard to finally work in this whole “Hamlet” thing they’ve been going on about for the last four years. I really feel like we’d all moved on. Meanwhile, rather than just kill Tara, thus answering my prayers (relax everyone, this is fiction), the writers have crippled her thereby giving the character the opportunity to grandstand and cry and generally be annoying. Yes, I get that she is messed up in the head right now, but bashing her own hand to pieces in a fit of rage was ridiculous. I understand the concept of being self-destructive. I was 16 once as well. It’s why I like the show. This is getting out of control. 

I don’t know. It’s infuriating. Things are hopefully taking a turn for the better. Opie’s transition into the Angel of Death could be pretty good. There’s always hope for Jax. Lord knows the writers haven’t been shy about making radical U-turns with his character before. At the end of the day though, that bloody diary is going to persist as a plot device. I liked it in the first season because it gave me a reason to root for Jax, before I realized that this show either doesn’t want you to root for anyone, or wants you to root for everyone and feel guilty about it. I also like that Kurt Sutter continues to give himself one of the best characters in the entire show, but keeps his involvement tasteful. That face-off with Lincoln Potter was pretty sweet. I have to respect a guy who writes himself a bad-ass part like that but keeps it low-key and doesn’t let it derail the rest of the show.

So, will I keep watching? Yeah, of course I will. I watched the entire run of the Sarah Connor Chronicles for God’s sake. Maybe we’ll get a spin-off. Tig gets arrested and put away, but he’s let out on condition that he help the police solve crimes. In San Francisco. With a shabby overcoat. Kim Coates is the next Columbo, is what I’m saying.