Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spotted Dick!

A week ago Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending Jack the Ripper's Holiday Spectacular at the Bowery Poetry Club. It was a thoroughly enjoyable outing, and I wish I had footage of Jack himself to show you, but as the past century has more than proved, he is a slippery fellow who cleverly eludes the camera's glare. This is surprising, as Jack's alter ego - the always silky Mr. Trav S.D. likes the limelight very much. So, if any footage should emerge, I will be sure to post it. In the meantime, here is the always entertaining Miss Lorinne Lampert performing "Spotted Dick (Is a Pudding)" with Mr. Albert Garzon accompanying her on piano.



Merry Christmas, everyone! And may you all have the pudding of your choice!

La Vie Parisienne

Recently, a friend with a vested interest in mermaids posted a couple of truly lovely illustrations on facebook (via the always wonderful Coilhouse), both from a French magazine, La Vie Parisienne, of which I had never heard.

I did a little digging and found that La Vie Parisienne, founded in 1863, but achieving its greatest popularity in the early years of the 20th century, was a high class rag, featuring art and humor and literature, but was best known for its charming illustrations of scantily clad pretty girls. It was all very tasteful (more Esquire than Playboy or Police Gazette) and none of the pictures I've seen would raise much of a modern eyebrow. However, during the war years, that old prude General Pershing warned his troops against its corrupting influence. History has neglected to note if there was a subsequent spike in sales.

What is of most interest to me are the illustrators. I'm pretty familiar with most of the great American and British illustrators of the fin de siècle, but not the European ones who remained in Europe (a few, such as Raphael Kirchner, wound up in New York working for Flo Ziegfield). But others, such as Chéri Hérouard and Georges Léonnec (who painted the lovely blue-haired mermaid above) are new to me - though, after performing a couple of image searches, I've realized I've seen their work without knowing who was responsible for creating it. I've been looking at pages and pages of illustrations from La Vie Parisienne for a few days now, and they are just gorgeous. Sexy and full of charm, not at all vulgar. I'm a little obsessed with old fashioned ink and watercolor technique - it all looks so perfect and seamless! I love fine art, but for good or ill, illustration is where I live. Below find some lovely examples from the glory years of La Vie Parisienne.

Chéri Hérouard, 1921

another Chéri Hérouard

Georges Léonnec, 1916


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa Worries About Being A Tentacle-Free, Post-Cephalopodmas Letdown

I've been awfully full of "Bah Humbug!" this holiday season. I was sick for weeks, and now my poor inamorato has seemingly caught the bug. But, after all, as Fuzzy Bastard reminded me this afternoon, December 22 is the happiest day of the year. In addition to being my brother's birthday, it is also Cephalopodmas.

There are many wonderful ways to celebrate the season (none of which include Calamari or any sort of dipping sauce). One of the best is to sing Cephalopodmas Carols, such as the following, courtesy, cephalopodmas.com and penned by Caitlin Kiernan:
On the first day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the second day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the third day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the fourth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the fifth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the sixth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the seventh day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the eigth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the ninth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the tenth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Ten ammonites,
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the eleventh day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Eleven Architeuthis,
Ten ammonites,
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the twelfth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Twelve inks sacs squirting,
Eleven Architeuthis,
Ten ammonites,
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

On the thirteenth day of Cephalopodmas,
Cthulhu gave to me
Thirteen Hapalochlaena,
Twelve ink sacs squirting,
Eleven Architeuthis,
Ten ammonites,
Nine tentacles strangling,
Vampyroteuthis infernalis,
Seven photophores a-flashing,
Six arms a-flaying,
Grimpoteuthis,
Four snapping beaks,
Three suckers,
Two cuttlefish,
And Histioteuthis heteropsis.

Or, you might want to indulge in some cephalopod themed art. In which case, you are in luck! The image above is by artist Justina Kochansky. In addition to her website, she also sells prints on Etsy. She's created these charming little squid-scape comics that, really, anybody would want hanging on their wall. In keeping with the winter theme, below is her piece Snow Day:



Happy Cephalopodmas, Everyone!

(Oh, just one more.)


(all images courtesy Justina Kochansky/articulatematter.com)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spider-Man: A Concussion, A Broken Foot, Two Broken Wrists, Broken Ribs and Internal Bleeding - Fun For The Whole Family!



The fact that people are buying tickets to Spider-Man just to see the wreckage is starting to get really unpleasant. Actors dangling mid-air: potentially hilarious. Four actors sustaining serious injury: really upsetting. Apparently, the most recent injury was caused by human error. The following is a statement from AEA:
Actors' Equity Association worked today with the Department of Labor, OSHA and the production to determine that the cause of the accident at last night's performance. Further protocols are now being implemented, including redundancies recommended by Equity, the DOL and OSHA, to address this situation as well as other elements of the production. Equity continues to vigilantly monitor the production for the safety of its members.
Which, of course, begs the question: why isn't there a redundancy system already in place? Doing stunts that complicated, in real time, eight performances a week (as opposed to in movies, when they just have to be done once - and if something doesn't look right, a safety or stunt person or rigger can go, "oh, wait. Stop.", something that can't happen in live theater), without a rigorous safety and redundancy system in place is going to get someone - either a performer or an audience member - killed. The hubris is mind boggling, and if one takes even a cursory look at the numbers, the odds of them getting their $65 million dollar investment back are puny.

Does Julie Taymor really want this to be her legacy?

(video courtesy of Peter Michael Marino)

Clowns and More Clowns

I hope I never get so jaded I start taking for granted the city I love, the city in which I live, the city of my birth, the city of my dreams. By which I mean, of course, Gotham. New York City. It's all finite space and building up and over. Forward looking, with an endlessly fascinating history that hardly anyone seems to know much about. Like the other great cities of the world: London, Paris, Tokyo - you can never come to the end of it. There's always more, always something you didn't know about, something old or new that you've never seen or done. It never stops being thrilling. It's like the internet, but in real life!

So, pretty much everyone knows there are clubs in our fair and violent city where jazz musicians experiment and play for mostly other jazz musicians, workshops where theater people show work that's still in process to other theater people. Rooms and coffee shops and bars where poets read their new poems for others of their bearded and bespectacled ilk, and open mikes where comedians mostly make each other laugh (or attempt to). But what of the clowns? Where do the red of nose and floppy of feet go to juggle and fall down and work out their complex physical business before presenting their artistry in Tops, both big and small? They go to The New York Downtown Clown Revue, that's where - as did I last night, escorted by silky downtown impresario, Trav S.D.

Founded, hosted and curated by Christopher Lueck (old friend and onetime collaborator - he played the White Bear in the FringeNYC version of Antarctica), he had seemingly retired the Revue last year, but it has happily re-emerged at Dixon Place, a venue close to my heart as they were the very first people to pay me actual money for being a playwright. The snazzy new seats were close to filled with off duty clowns who had come to see what their brethren were up to. Like any night of variety, it was a mixed bag. Clowns are curious folk, and at certain points during the program it felt a bit like being locked in the Monkey House after hours, when one is not a Monkey oneself. Chris is a delightful and enthusiastic host who has divided the program between Presented Acts and Commissioned Acts. Matt Mitler, one of the commissioned performers (his brief was to come up with a short, shamanistic clown piece with musical meditation themes) achieved something completely and distinctively strange, which he performed with absolute commitment and was really not much like anything I've seen (and, as I've said many times before, I've seen a great deal).

But the highlight of the performances was easily the masterful Joel Jeske (who also performs an act, The Hey-Ya Brothers, with Mr. Lueck), joined by surprise guest, Grandma (AKA Barry Lubin), of Big Apple Circus fame. They were simply hilarious. I fear sometimes, that with all the European training some clowns acquire, and all the theory, modern clowns sometimes forget to be funny. Mr. Jeske, in pitch perfect straight man mode, attempts to sing Christmas songs and play his ukulele. Grandma, the most disruptive audience member imaginable, prevents this from happening. Hilarious. Then Grandma brought an audience member onstage and they squirted water at each other. Hilarious. Comedy is unexplainable. It's all precision and practice and practice and more practice. Like being a ballet dancer. But funnier. And they fall down more.

The New York Downtown Clown Revue is the third Monday of every month. For more information, go here. For my darling inamorato's review of the revue, look here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sick

Hello, my dear readers. I had The Sick, resulting in an unfortunate and unscheduled pause in my posting. But now - I'm back!

Here's a picture of a pretty girl. Posting begins anew.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Written Language is Still Not My Friend...

So I'm posting this! I would like to give myself a big pat on the back for having the bravery to post something in which I look this hideous. When I come down from the sick (which is likely adversely affecting my judgment), I will probably regret this very, very much.

But, thanks to all my delightful facebook friends for all their wonderful suggestions for what I should watch while home sick! This is dedicated to all of you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Whip It!

I started documenting my list of female movie directors more than two years ago, and I'm so pleased to say that I have a huge backlog of people I would like to write about, and since beginning this project Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for directing the (atrociously named, but very good) The Hurt Locker.

So, things, I suppose are looking up. I guess.

Which brings me to the career of ridiculously likable actor and first time feature director, Drew Barrymore, and her film, Whip It. Written by Los Angeles Roller Derby girl, Shauna Cross (AKA Maggie Mayhem), it's both an underdog sports story and a coming of age piece. Is it super original? No. But it's extremely enjoyable and possesses both an intelligence in its execution and a lack of cynicism that's extremely welcome in these dark movie watching days when people being mean to each other is supposed to be hilarious.

Ellen Page plays a young girl named Bliss who lives in a small town near Austin, TX and participates in pageants at her mother's insistence. After picking up a flier, Page and her BFF go to a Roller Derby tournament and she is completely entranced. One of the nicest things about the movie is watching somebody find something they love. There's an early scene in which Bliss is skating in preparation for tryouts with a look of absolute joy on her face.

And yes, the film contains most of the typical Bad News Bears styled clichés, but it's amiable and low key and often funny. And - Wow! - it really, really looks to me as if the actors do pretty much all their own skating! Barrymore's direction is skilled and doesn't get in the way of her story. During the Roller Derby scenes I always knew who everyone was and where they were in relation to the other skaters (something, for example, Christopher Nolan is completely incapable of), and it looked lovely. There's a sweet PG-13 romance between Bliss and a cute musician boy, but romance isn't the point. It's about Bliss skating, and about her relationship with her best friend and her parents.

I thought Bliss's parents (played by Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern) to be the weakest part of the film. They were painted a little too broadly and either Daniel Stern was completely miscast, or he's just a terrible actor, either way, I found his performance a little hard to watch. I did like that whatever issues Bliss was having with them, they were not painted as villains. After lying about her age and sneaking off to Austin to skate, when her parents found out they'd been lied to, they (understandably) freaked out. I liked that the script has Kristen Wiig's character point out to Bliss that she had lied, and that her parents clearly cared about her, and maybe she should cut them some slack.

Of course it ends with the big game in which the Hurl Scouts face their rivals, the Juliette Lewis (Iron Maven) led Holy Rollers, and none of the plot points are particularly surprising. But Whip It possesses in spades many of the simple pleasures one often wants from movies that seem so often in short supply. The film also had a really nice, understated sense of place. Another subtle touch, one I see very, very rarely was in the costume design. Bliss (later, Babe Ruthless), comes from a family without a great deal of money. And we see her character wear the same items of clothing, in different combinations, multiple times throughout the story. Barrymore paid a great deal of attention to detail, giving the film a really nice visual texture. There was nothing rote about the filmmaking.

Drew Barrymore has been acting in movies since she was four or five, and comes from one of the most legendary show business dynasties in American history. Whip It, while not perfect, didn't feel like a rookie effort. It was modern and self-assured and good hearted, all qualities one associates with her as an actor. It's one of those movies that I'll likely wind up seeing 600 times before I die, simply because I'll sit there and watch it every time it's on TV. It's the kind of movie that makes me unreasonably happy in an uncomplicated and unembarrassed way. Something that is actually pretty rare.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vogue: The Kraken

I have a complex, quasi-abusive, and completely unbreakable relationship with fashion. In so many ways the entire industry is indefensible. But, like with those people who like the running and catching and throwing and such, I remain, as they say, a fan.

And, like it or not, in the center of the melee, like a bloated, multi-tentacled Kraken, sits Vogue. Its current American edition is ridiculous, as gorgeously documented by former West Egg resident R.J. Cutler in his documentary, The September Issue. The film took a look at the nearly 40 year (!) working relationship of Editor in Chief Anna Wintour and Creative Director Grace Coddington (they started off at British Vogue in the 60s, then both made the move to New York). The various editions of Vogue are often out of touch and embarrassing. The American version is dull and stagnant and honestly, I couldn't care less about the current version of this particular beast. But in its first few glorious decades, it employed such luminaries as Man Ray, Edward Stiechen, George Hoyningen-Huene, Horst, Cecil Beaton, and Lee Miller (who scooped the NY Times with her coverage of the liberation Buchenwald as she traveled with Patton's army. Miller is a personal hero of mine and deserves her own post.). In the teens and 20s the covers featured gorgeous, modern illustrations.

But, every once in a great while, most often in their Italian or Paris editions, Vogue will come up with something that produces at least a dim echo of their former glory. Such is the case in this month's British edition which contains an achingly lovely editorial spread based around a zodiac theme. The photographer is Tim Gutt. The sets were designed by Shona Heath. And the model is Siri Tollerød. You can see the whole thing here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More Murderous Muscovites and Pat the Bunny: Tom Rob Smith's The Secret Speech

I do fear that I'm scarily on the verge of becoming one of those tiresome people who rails endlessly and repetitiously about their pet cause and concern on facebook, so I'll just spew it all out here and be done with it. After all, why have a blog, if one can't spew? I agree with lots of the ranting and raving on the interwebs about the loss of what seem to me to be inalienable rights, but I'm extremely tired of phrases like "it's like Stalin" or "it's just like Nazi Germany", mainly because whatever badness might be going on, it simply isn't like those things. I know I'm not the most well informed person on earth, and the complexities of our modern governmental, economic and geo-political situations are such that I know I'm never really going to catch up (at least I don't spout complete gibberish 24/7). I fully admit that 90% of what I know about anything has been gleaned from reading novels. I have no idea what needs to be done in terms of security but, it seems fairly clear to me that U.S. vs. Davis needs to be revisited, as back in the 70s when the decision was written, the question was warrantless bag searches, and the fact that "flying isn't a right, one can choose not to fly and avoid the whole thing" was the general thrust. Which isn't entirely true. Yes, one might refuse to fly, but for many people that would entail things like quitting one's job in order to avoid what many, many people view as a violation of one's person. Also, the "in light of current technology" clause needs to be picked over, i.e. why not dogs? There is no, "well, we've paid for the damn machines, so we better use them or look like asshats" text in the decision, just saying. But, I'm not a lawyer, so what the hell do I know? I only know about novels, so back to the books.

The thing that keeps popping into my head is Efrafa. Okay. I know this is where I lose anything even resembling credibility. Efrafa is the rabbit warren in Richard Adams's 1973 novel, Watership Down, which was created and run by the terrifying General Woundwort. Woundwort had decided (not incorrectly) that most of the problems faced by rabbits were caused by predators and humans, so the survival of his warren was based on extreme security and discipline. There's a large part of me that thinks I should be hit about the head multiple times for conflating the problems faced by a bunch of fictional rabbits with the lives and safety of actual human beings, but whatever. The rabbits who are sent as emissaries to Efrafa from Watership Down are thrust into a nightmare world where they aren't able to eat, go above ground or defecate where and when they choose. A rabbit who goes to the ruling counsel and requests to leave with some other unhappy rabbits (the warren is over-crowded) has his ears shredded. Life is hardly worth living, and of course one must ask, at what price safety?

For me it becomes ridiculous when the chances of me being groped by some creepy stranger are exponentially raised because whatever halfwit the TSA has hired to do the screening, who is able to start work before the second round of background checks is complete (or, for that matter, has even begun), doesn't know what an IUD looks like and thinks I'm transporting some kind of dangerous exploding device. If one cannot distinguish between a belt buckle or a penny and something that can bring down a plane, I have very little confidence the people staffing these machines are able to do this with anything else, either.

You know in the movie Gross Point Blank, where John Cusack is nearly shot by an old high school classmate working as a security guard? And he asks him how he got that job? And the friend replies, "They were hiring"? This pretty much describes the crack team that has been assembled to keep us all safe from terrorists. And the TSA is hiring pretty much everywhere. I looked at the openings, and at all the government TSA hiring regulations, and the big qualification seems to be that one has never been convicted of a major crime like rape or murder or arson. Note the word convicted. In theory, someone who has been tried multiple times for sexual assaults, but not convicted, could be hired. I know, innocent until proven guilty. But if you know anything at all about the rate of successful prosecutions in cases of sexual assaults of any sort (abysmal), this will give one pause.

Hazel, the leader of the Watership Down rabbits was no dummy. What he did was assess risk, and balance it with quality of life. In my opinion, we seem to be incrementally eroding our civil liberties in the name of safety. And the assessment of which threats we should be worried about seems slightly arbitrary to me. But again, I'm correlating all of this with a bunch of fictional rabbits, so take it all with a big grain of salt. It just seems to me, that like with the brave pioneering rabbits in Richard Adams's book, the people who created this country did so at great personal risk. I'm sort of a fan of letting people assess their own comfort levels in terms of who is permitted to touch them and what seems like an appropriate risk. But again, I'm the lady babbling about rabbits.

One big caveat: along with my marked discomfort with what has been deemed an appropriate warrantless search of my bra, I hold onto the fact that it's still not much like life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Of course, as I mentioned earlier in this post, I know this primarily from reading novels. I reviewed Tom Rob Smith's excellent thriller, Child 44, a few months ago, which is set in the last months of Stalin's dictatorship and in the months following his death. He evokes beautifully what it must have been like to live in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and, I repeat, it is nothing like living in the United States in the first decades of the 21st century. We have our own problems, sure, but fear of being denounced by our coworkers and families to the state and being sent off to prison camps for years of hard labor on the flimsiest of pretexts really, really isn't one of them. Not to mention the completely wonderful and utterly game changing First Amendment. I would also like to point out that we are one of the only nations that has any such law. Not Canada. Not Britain. Not France.

At the end of Tom Rob Smith's first novel, Stalin was dead and the Soviet government had agreed to (hero/anti-hero) Leo Demidov's request to set up a homicide division within the Militia in Moscow. I wasn't sure where this would lead, as even with Stalin gone, the Soviets still were unwilling to (publicly) admit that individuals committed crimes against each other, rather than just against the state. I had some thoughts about where the series would lead, maybe Leo would solve crimes in Moscow? Another serial killer? Whatever I thought, I was wrong, partly because my Soviet history is, to say the least, weak.

At the beginning of The Secret Speech, copies of Khrushchev's eponymous speech were being distributed to former and current members of the MGB (the State Police). The actual title of the speech was "On the Personality Cult and Its Consequences" and it criticized Stalin and the excesses of his regime. In Smith's book this leads to suicides, murder, rage, fear and guilt in the former perpetrators of Stalin's policies. Smith is an excellent thriller writer, and his strengths lie most in his ability to craft believable human beings who behave in recognizable and complex ways. His hero Leo, is particularly fascinating. He's a former state security agent whose awakening to the moral implications of his work was documented in the first book. The question in The Secret Speech is: what should be done with the people who perpetrated these horrors? Mainly, can they, and should they, be forgiven? Is it possible to make amends? The way in which Smith shows various people's reactions to these questions is often incredibly insightful. One former security officer commits suicide, not because of his remorse over what he's done, but because he couldn't stand his wife knowing, and the social embarrassment the revelations would cause. Which seems ludicrous in the face of the enormity of some of the horrors he assisted with, but rings emotionally true to me.

What rang less true, as with in his first book, were some of the thriller aspects. Leo is painted as being wonderfully morally complex, but he also is a bit of a Teflon covered action hero. Sneaking undercover into a Gulag and escaping seemed a little far fetched, to put it mildly. One of the things I like about Smith is that his female characters have as much going on as his male ones. The journey taken by Leo's adopted daughter, Zoya, is particularly wonderful, part LeCarré, part Dickens, I would have been happy spending many more pages with her. Not so with his chief villain, Fraera. Formerly a mild-mannered priest's wife, she was arrested seven years earlier by Leo, sent to the Gulags, and after much hardship has become a kind of criminal mastermind, bent on revenge. It all felt a little ludicrous, particularly because so many of the characters seem so complex and real, in comparison Fraera felt a little like someone who should be fighting with Batman. But, over all, Smith likes complexity and hard choices in his fiction, which I like. He also writes a great thriller that is near impossible to put down. He is working on a third and final installment, and as this book ended amidst the bloodshed and disappointment of the Hungarian Revolution, and the formation of the KGB, I am excited to read his next instalment.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Things I Am More Frightened of Than Being Killed By Terrorists While Flying in An Airplane

1. Any sort of professional, public humiliation.

2. Spiders

3. Being trapped on an airplane with spiders

4. Being buried alive with spiders (Yes. I was permanently traumatized by The Serpent and the Rainbow).

5. Dying alone in my apartment and having nobody notice until I'm an awful story in the Post on a slow news day, and Josh Tanzer is making up a funny, funny headline about my rotting corpse

6. Falling through a subway grate in the sidewalk.

7. Being molested or raped by a TSA employee

8. Being stabbed to death in my apartment by an escapee from the hospital for the criminally insane

9. Being run over by a car

10. Being pushed onto the subway tracks and being run over by a train

11. Homelessness

12. Disfiguring injuries

13. Being blinded

14. After becoming blind, being trapped with spiders and not realizing it until they crawl all over me (spiders are stealthy)

15. Being killed by inclement weather or a member of the avian community while on an airplane

16. Did I mention spiders?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Scobee Diner: A Lament

Maybe I am a sentamentalist at heart, all previous denials to the contrary. Maybe I do look askance at what is mistakenly called progress.

Today is the final day of Scobee's existence. If you, like me, grew up on the peninsula of West Egg, you too would have spent long hours sitting in the vinyl covered booths of my increasingly distant adolescence. I should have known things would never be the same the moment they removed the jukeboxes.

Diners seem to be disappearing from the landscape all over the five boroughs. Where else can one go at three in the morning and sit with a plate of french fries for two hours? The last diner closing that made me sad was the long lost Astor Riviera. It used to be where that giant Starbucks on Astor Place now sits. I guess that's the thing that has changed the face of this country and now finally the city more than anything: the loss of privately owned businesses. But that's a rant for another day.



So let's all lift a gravy covered french fry and salute the New York City diners of our youth! Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan and The Bronx! Alas! Alas!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Mary Sue With the Dragon Tattoo

Okay, kiddies. I am clearly the last person on earth to read Mystery/Crime Novel of the Decade (!), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and after dragging myself through the final, inexplicable 100 pages, my reaction can be best summarized by the phrase: "Are you fucking kidding me?".

Let me digress for a moment. Those of you not as hideously geeky as I am may be wondering what a Mary Sue is. It began back in the dark days before the internet as a fan fiction trope, but the definition has since expanded, making the phrase a useful shorthand in most genre book criticism. One can find an excellent definition here:
MARY SUE (n.): 1. A variety of story, first identified in the fan fiction community, but quickly recognized as occurring elsewhere, in which normal story values are grossly subordinated to inadequately transformed personal wish-fulfillment fantasies, often involving heroic or romantic interactions with the cast of characters of some popular entertainment. 2. A distinctive type of character appearing in these stories who represents an idealized version of the author. 3. A cluster of tendencies and characteristics commonly found in Mary Sue-type stories. 4. A body of literary theory, originally generated by the fanfic community, which has since spread to other fields (f.i., professional SF publishing) because it’s so darn useful. The act of committing Mary Sue-ism is sometimes referred to as “self-insertion.”
What's so interesting about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is that both of the lead characters are flaming, card carrying Mary Sues, albeit of different varieties who in conjunction with each other, ratchet up the Mary Sue quotient even further. This is just unforgivable, really. Let's start with Mary Sue, #1, middle-aged Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist. I feel the need to point out the fact that the book's author, Stieg Larsson, is (or, was - he died in 2004) a middle-aged Swedish journalist. However, I have no idea if Larsson, like his creation, was as devastatingly attractive to every woman he encountered, as full of fierce journalistic integrity even in the face of a prison sentence, was the lucky owner of two pieces of glamorous real estate, or single handedly rescued the Swedish (and possibly the world) economy through his brilliant investigative journalism. Larsson apparently spent a great deal of his career investigating extremist right-wing groups, which, great. But there seems to be an awful lot of wish fulfillment on exhibit in the story of his (clear) literary counterpart.

Unfortunately, I wasn't really able to subject Blomkvist to the nearly legendary Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test as the questions are so heavily geared toward fantasy and science fiction, most didn't apply. As we shall see, Mary Sue #2 doesn't have this problem. Her Mary Sue-itude is so extreme, it is a thing of wonder.

The second protagonist is 24 year old hacker, Lisbeth Salander. I fed all her attributes into the litmus test and, honestly, I tried to be as fair and conservative as possible. Truly. Even so, her score came back as 101. This is an insanely high score. If one invents a character that ranks 50 or above, the suggestion is a terse "kill it dead". Okay, here's the list of some of her most Sue-rific attributes:

  1. Character is also known by a cool nickname ("Wasp")
  2. Is described as looking anorexic (multiple times) but eats like a horse
  3. Even though she is described in the above manner, every man in the book is attracted to her. She is also described as looking like a 15 year old, which just makes it creepy
  4. Character's clothing is chosen because it makes her appear badass
  5. Clothing that is realistically impractical or improper for the character's situation, but looks cool
  6. Character is viewed as suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder as an excuse for character's Jerkass Loner personality
  7. Has distinctive tattoos.
  8. Raised in an orphanage
  9. Was raped
  10. Has nearly supernatural photographic memory
  11. Has insane hacker skills though she was raised in a series of institutions where her time working on a computer would be, no doubt, limited.
  12. Character was far too badass to attend school, but through some unknown means has learned multiple languages well enough to be mistaken for a native speaker.
  13. Exhibits some really ugly violent tendencies, but since she is the heroine, this is viewed as (again) badass and okay, though when characters the author doesn't like exhibit similar tendencies, this is then bad and wrong
  14. Character never makes mistakes - effortlessly accomplishes all tasks with her amazing skilz

Need I tell you that the two above characters fall in love? That Lisbeth, who is presented as nearly sociopathic and incapable of feeling any sort of closeness to anybody, pretty much immediately falls for the character clearly modeled on the author? Because, as we all know, cool motorcycle (did I mention the motorcycle?) riding 24 year old hackers are always attracted to financial reporters in their mid-forties. Also, did you know that anorexic (looking) 4'11" women can beat an (armed) serial killer nearly to death with a golf club, providing said serial killer, who has remained undetected for 35 years, just this one time, forgot to lock the door to his underground torture dungeon?

Deep breath. Okay. Anyone who knows anything about me and what I read knows that I love genre fiction. I defend it all the time. I think this particular book has me all fired up simply because I find its lunatic, runaway, world wide success completely and unutterably inexplicable. Why this book rather than the many other, far more competently written mysteries and thrillers that are released every year? Admittedly, I'm more of a mystery fan than a thriller one. But if something s making a lot of noise, I often make a point of reading it. But, here's the thing: books like Silence of the Lambs, Eye of the Needle, all of John Le Carré (who I adore), The Bourne Identity, Child 44, all of these books are justly popular entertainments. They possess all of genre fiction's strengths in that they are solidly and intricately plotted, well written, and absolutely unputdownable.

Dragon Tattoo is a mess. It takes forever to get cooking. The characters are wafer thin. The book is reasonably entertaining once we get to the central mystery, but the plot construction felt a little amateurish. It moves in a little too much of a straight line, it all seems a little too easy and simple. There are also contradictions in the the modus operandus of the killer that I found maddening (was he driven by ritual or not? He sometimes was, sometimes wasn't, depending on the convenience of the plot). I would be perfectly willing to cut him some slack on his mystery plotting, as this was his first effort if it wasn't for the other problems. After the central mystery is satisfactorily resolved, we still have about 100 pages to go. My heart sank. What followed was the take down of an evil billionaire which seemingly goes on forever. I kept turning to my inamorato, asking, "Why am I still reading this?".

I seem to be on a roll, here, but really, I'm just completely confused. I had read the book described as being "feminist", and its original Swedish title was (the cringe-making) "Men Who Hate Women". I don't have any particular problem with how women are portrayed in the book, as the characters of both genders seem equally implausible. I will say, that the male characters in the book seem to range from creepy to insanely evil. But painting men as violent assholes (except for, of course, Our Hero), and letting us all know that rape is bad, does not a feminist work make. He does bring up some potentially interesting points, such as correlating fascism with sexual violence and misogyny, but none of that ever really went anywhere and he's not a good enough writer to handle anything morally ambiguous.

I actually have the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, sitting, glaring at me from the shelf. But - I just can't.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for lots of things, some important (my health, my inamorato, my brain) some less consequential (my apartment, the internet, the existence of all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD). Good things all.

Which brings me to the news that hit the geekier realms of the interwebs this week. Warner Brothers distributed a press release that announced that a "rebooted" (how I hate that stupid word - unless you're turning your computer on and off it makes no sense) movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be released in 2012. Hm. With no input or involvement from Joss Whedon. Sigh. With a screenwriter named Whit Anderson who has fewer writing credits on iMDB than I do (i.e. none).

Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays. It's about food, gathering with loved ones and possesses disturbing overtones of cultural imperialism. The Jane Espenson penned, Season 4 episode Pangs embraces all three of these key Thanksgiving points.



Later today, I will be heading to Chez Piper McKenzie accompanied by various Stewarts. I love food, and I like cooking, but tend to spiral into a panic when faced with anything domestic. But I'll try to leave the atrocities at home. In an interview with Ms. Anderson, the woman about to be the most viciously attacked rookie screenwriter ever, she referenced Christopher Nolan's Batman as a good path to take in superhero reimagining. Sigh. I know. Everyone loves those movies. Except me. They're painfully humorless, and among other things, Buffy was always a comedy.




Joss Whedon has been through a lot with Buffy. It's always been his dream project, and the 1992 movie version was abysmal. Needless to say, he had no control over it. In a nearly unprecedented turn, he had the opportunity, five years later, to do it right. The show lasted seven seasons, and although it wasn't perfect, it was wonderful. And only ended seven years ago. Joss Whedon is still a young(ish) man. To "reboot" his creation (one of the uglier points of the Warners' press release is that they refer to the owners of the property, as the "creators")this soon, seems like a terrible idea, and a project that absolutely nobody wants.

But Joss Whedon is a class act. He responded in kind, and here is what he had to say in its entirety:
Kristin, I'm glad you asked for my thoughts on the announcement of Buffy the cinema film. This is a sad, sad reflection on our times, when people must feed off the carcasses of beloved stories from their youths—just because they can't think of an original idea of their own, like I did with my Avengers idea that I made up myself.

Obviously I have strong, mixed emotions about something like this. My first reaction upon hearing who was writing it was, "Whit Stillman AND Wes Anderson? This is gonna be the most sardonically adorable movie EVER." Apparently I was misinformed. Then I thought, "I'll make a mint! This is worth more than all my Toy Story residuals combined!" Apparently I am seldom informed of anything. And possibly a little slow. But seriously, are vampires even popular any more?

I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death. But, you know, AFTER. I don't love the idea of my creation in other hands, but I'm also well aware that many more hands than mine went into making that show what it was. And there is no legal grounds for doing anything other than sighing audibly. I can't wish people who are passionate about my little myth ill. I can, however, take this time to announce that I'm making a Batman movie. Because there's a franchise that truly needs updating. So look for The Dark Knight Rises Way Earlier Than That Other One And Also More Cheaply And In Toronto, rebooting into a theater near you.

Leave me to my pain! Sincerely, Joss Whedon.
I'm making butternut squash ravioli with mushrooms and leeks in a white wine sauce. Hopefully we'll leave out the traditional fighting and also leave the less traditional syphilis at home, too.



Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Passion Play: Fevvers and Mickey Rourke


While conducting my (ridiculously extensive) Megan Fox research for my Jennifer's Body post last week, I was intrigued - to say the least - to discover the nature of Ms. Fox's next project. It's an indie called Passion Play, directed and written by Brian Glazer and co-starring Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray and Rhys Ifans. A fine cast indeed, but that's not what grabbed my interest.

The movie is about a horn player (Rourke) in trouble with a gangster (Murray) who happens upon a sort of traveling freak show/carnival in which customers pay to look at the beauteous Ms. Fox, who has a pair of wings growing out of her back. Hm. So. Regular readers of this blog will no doubt know of what this made me think. A few months ago, I published a post in which I waxed rhapsodic about Angela Carter's novel Nights At the Circus. To recap: It's about a beautiful young woman (dubbed "The Cockney Venus"), who at one point in this picaresque telling of her life, winds up in a sort of Freak Show brothel where men pay to look at her. Oh, and she has a pair of wings sticking out of her back. I'm not saying there's any sort of plagiarism afoot, as the stories sound otherwise completely different, but it is curious.

The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to not terribly enthusiastic reviews. I looked at the few clips that are available, and for me the biggest problem was with Roarke. Between his boxing injuries and his perplexing plastic surgery, he almost looks as if he's wearing a poorly rendered Mickey Roarke Halloween mask. The reviews all read as if the writers really, really wanted to like it. It's an intriguing premise, but the execution leaves much to be desired, apparently. It's a sweet fable, they all say, but it has some issues with tone and garnered some bad laughs. People like Ms. Fox in the role of the winged girl, Lily, though paradoxily one or two wished the story was more about her character, rather than her just being an object of desire, or obsession for the men in the film.

Thus far, there is no set release date, which doesn't bode well. Still, I'm very curious. If it does make it to DVD, to the top of my Netflix queue it will go. Below is a clip:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Apocalypse Girls: Mockingjay

Recently, a friend's 8th grade daughter levied her criticism on the first Hunger Games book thusly (to paraphrase): "If it's going to be sci-fi, it should be good sci-fi." , and then went and buried her head back in Crime and Punishment.

Clearly, my taste is far less discerning as I liked both the first and second installments in the series (for some background, take a look at my previous posts). I thought the second book was particularly wonderful, with its intelligent and heartbreaking depiction of how the powerless and disgruntled fare in a totalitarian regime (hint: not well). I was also taken with the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and the way in which Collins has her functioning in her increasingly complicated and distressing circumstances in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem (obviously the remains of the United States). She's someone who has never had the opportunity to be a child: she's been looking after her family since she was little, and has all the attendant anxiety and guilt that level of early responsibility brings. She's not a hero because she's decreed as special by some outside agency (see: Harry Potter, the abysmal Alchemyst books, Star Wars, even my beloved Buffy), she's not "The One". She's thrown into the voracious media spotlight of her society through lottery, and becomes a media darling because of her own tenacity to survive and through exhibiting an unusual integrity during the Hunger Games in book one. She becomes in the second book, Catching Fire, the symbol of dissent, something she never asked for and finds dangerous as it places her family and district in jeopardy as the iron fist of the state comes crashing down on them. This is wonderful, potent stuff.

As the third book, Mockingjay, opens, the poor districts of Panem are in open rebellion against the wealthy Capital. Katness is in hiding with the leaders of the rebellion in the previously thought destroyed and empty 13th District. In actuality, the rebels of the 13th are allowed to survive because they are locked in a nuclear detente with the Capital. The leaders of the rebel forces know Katniss is a potent symbol and use her celebrity to propagandize their cause. One thing that I absolutely adore about these books is the moral complexity in terms of the politics. The rebel forces are terrifying, in their own way, as much as the decadent, slave based government in the capital. The rebellion has been fomenting for years, they know they have right on their side, they are puritanical and martial, and they don't brook much in the way of dissent. In other words, the Czar is awful, and the Bolsheviks aren't necessarily better. Which is interesting, but makes for an increasingly unpleasant read.

Most distressing to me, is the change in Katniss's status. Now Katniss had become "The One". In some ways this feels like an artificial structure built to insure that Collins's heroine remains front and center. A slightly ridiculous amount of the rebel's strategy seems built around the existence of Katniss Everdeen in a way that felt slightly contrived. The best use of Katniss's new status was the creation of a pirate television series featuring Katniss amongst the rebel forces. It's pure propaganda, of course, Katniss is too valuable to the cause to put in real danger. She is quickly airlifted in and out of hot spots accompanied by a full camera crew. But later in the book the Katniss focus felt as corrupt as the Capitol itself. One of the terms of Katniss's cooperation with the rebellion was that she got to kill President Snow herself. In order to assure this, many, many other people die.

The carnage by the end of the series is fairly epic. I know I'm a total wimp, but by the end I began to feel just bludgeoned and manipulated, which, to be fair, might have been the point. I finished the book a while ago, but I've been sitting on this review as I honestly wasn't sure of what I thought. As with the first two books, I read Mockingjay in one sitting - Collins, if nothing else certainly knows how to tell a story, and putting aside what I said in my review of the first book, she pulls very few punches. The society she's invented is terrifying. It's a combination of the worst aspects of Russia under the Czar, with the rich living lives of unbelievable decadence with the majority in the districts living lives of absolute brutal poverty. Combine that with our current age of reality television and media spin, and you have a really ugly brew of an imagined but seemingly possible future.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kings Point: A Documentary

As I touched upon briefly in Thursday's post, American's really hate the idea of getting old and dying. Not that most other nations are precisely jumping up and down about it, but there's a little more integration of their older citizens into daily life. I've been job hunting for a while, and I know my age is an issue. And I'm not even old. Logan's Run, here we come.

Which brings me to a feature documentary currently in the completion and fund raising stages called Kings Point, directed by Sari Gilman. I've seen the five minute preview (and so can you! Embedded below), and it's lovely. The film profiles several residents of a large retirement community in Del Ray, Florida. The brief exerpt I saw was fairly riviting. One woman speaking about it still being a world of couples, although she's essentially living in a city of women. We also hear a little snippet from an elderly commitment-phobe ("Bea's on top of me all the time!"). Like most things that try to get at the root of some aspect of humanity, it's both funny and sad.

Much of the time the great joy of documentaries is listening to people talk. And the people Ms. Gilman has chosen to focus on are very good talkers. It looks lovely, too, with well composed shots and a palette of greens and peaches (not, I beg to clarify, the dreaded orange and teal) that evoke Florida beautifully. I'd like to see more. Which brings me to the fund raising portion of this post. The filmmakers have set up a kickstarter page. Please click here to help them with their completion funds.



In the spirit of full disclosure, I must mention that I grew up with Sari in West Egg. Upon hearing the name of the film I initially assumed that West Egg was the subject matter, as the village in our home town where all the fabulously wealthy people (including Gatsby) live, shares its name with the title of this film. But it's just a coincidence. Sari has had a long career as a feature documentary editor, working on such projects as Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas At the White House among others. This is her first outing as director and I'm looking forward to seeing the completed film.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jennifer's (and Megan's) Body

I was really prepared to like Jennifer's Body for a multitude of reasons, mixed reviews or not (and that's mixed, meaning mixed, not bad). It's a teen girl horror flick penned by Diablo Cody straight off her Oscar win for Juno, and directed by Karyn Kusama who helmed Girlfight (which I haven't seen, but about which I've heard good things) and Aeon Flux (which was awful). It stars Amanda Seyfried, who I've always liked and Megan Fox, who I thought I'd never seen in anything, but I was wrong, as she had a small part in the Lindsey Lohan vehicle Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Which I've seen. Don't judge.

That said, all I know about Ms. Fox is what I've gleaned from the internets over the past few years. Most of this can be summed up thusly:
  1. She's great looking.
  2. She says lots of boneheaded things to reporters and on talk shows.
  3. She's in a long term relationship with (now married to) Brian Austin Green who played David Silver on 90210.
  4. My friend's teenage daughter and her friends adore her (she's soooo fuckin hottttt).
  5. People on the internets seem pretty contemptuous and hateful towards her, and I can't quite seem to figure out why.
Back to the film. Ms. Cody's script has a lot going for it, but it feels a little half baked. The beginning is terrific: the film is book-ended with scenes of Amanda Seyfried in a maximum security women's prison. It's shot beautifully (if with a few too many teal/orange clichés for my taste) and starts off creepily enough and has us wondering what could have turned sweet-faced Seyfried into a killer. We then flashback to Devil's Kettle High School, where pretty cheerleader Megan Fox (Jennfier) is BFF with dorky Amanda Seyfried (Needy. No, really. That's the character's name). Even before any of the violent supernatural goings on that we see later in the film, Jennifer and Needy seem somehow psychically linked, almost too close. Needy's sweet boyfriend thinks (rightly) that Jennifer is using and manipulating Needy. Jennifer is a classic mean girl who seems to require Needy to follow in her wake like some sort of wide eyed terrier. What both the movie and Fox do pretty well is show that Jennifer seems to need Needy as much as Needy needs Jennifer. It's an unhealthy, nearly parasitic, uneven, symbiotic friendship.


Megan Fox is a beautiful girl and is talked about in the gutter press as if she was a major movie star. But she's only appeared in six films so far (with a couple more in the can waiting for release). Six. She shot to fame after appearing in the first Transformers movie and after appearing in various states of sexiness in every men's magazine the world over. She also has an extremely well documented case of verbal diarrhea which makes her a completely entertaining interview. After reading a slew of Megan Fox articles over the past couple of days and taking a look at her TMZ coverage from the past couple of years, a couple of things became immediately apparent. Unlike many young starlets, she seems to have a really good bead on both the nature of her job (being a sexy young starlet) and the pluses and minuses of this particular line of employment. The other is that she has the most shockingly boring private life of any sexy young starlet since the job was invented.


Jennifer and Needy wind up in the local shit kicker bar to see a band, Low Shoulder, that Jennifer heard about on YouTube. Before talking to the cute lead singer (Adam Brody from The OC) Jennifer is all trash talking teen girl expounding to Needy that they have boobs, hence all the power. And then after confidently striding up to Brody she... melts. She's a little nervous and stammery the way girls are when they talk to Older Boys. Needy thinks they're bad news, but Jennifer is smitten. Cute! In a band! From the city! Needy is very, very protective of Jennifer, correctly thinking that her heedlessness could lead her into real trouble. While watching the band, the bar explodes into flames. It is hinted at, but never confirmed, that something telekinetic may be at play. The girls escape through the bathroom window, and run into the lead singer in the parking lot, while surrounded by burn victims and screams. He convinces Jennifer to come with him in the band's van. Needy knows this is a terrible idea and tries to talk Jennifer out of it, but she goes. Now, I have to say I really liked how this was handled even if they took a play straight out of the Buffy handbook. What I mean is, we as audience members are truly frightened for Jennifer. The ways in which this could go badly for her are manifold. When we next see Jennifer, she's a monster. Or so Needy thinks. We don't know what's happened to her, or what she is, but she's covered in blood and she's just... wrong. Up til now the movie has been pretty terrific. This, though, is where things start to fall apart.


Oh, Megan Fox. If there's any young starlet in need of a good gender studies class, it's her. I'm just worried everyone from the professor to the other students would be mean to her, as in some ways she's a perfect object lesson in four inch heels. And when I say she's in need of a good gender studies class, I do so because she is clearly fascinated with the ramifications of gender and sexuality as they pertain to both her working life and the world at large. She talks about it all the time in her interviews in a way I've almost never heard before from someone who is in her particular position. Megan Fox is equal parts intelligent and inarticulate, which causes some problems. The following are some quotes:

It's a double standard. To be outspoken, or different at all, is a problem for women. As soon as you curse or, God forbid, make some sort of sexual reference that's a joke, you're labeled a party girl. They don't do that with men, so I feel it would be a lot easier.

When I go to a party, I always feel like I'm chum.
Like my agent is just chumming the waters until I'm circled by all these dudes.

I don't trust male intentions, usually, because they don't approach me for intellectual conversation.

If you know how to take control of being a sex symbol, then it can be powerful. But I have no idea how to handle it yet, how to deal with it.

Hollywood is the most superficial thing you could possibly be a part of and if I weren't attractive I wouldn't be working at all.

I personally always find something really scary about watching little girls learning to manipulate their dads by baby talking. Then they grow up and use the same technique on their boyfriends or husbands. That scares me because it's just so sick on so many levels.

Little girls are very much exposed to sexuality through the media and the entertainment industry and advertisements. So when you realize that you have the same power that you've watched women who've come before you have, it is frightening and you don't know what to do with it. I don't think you ever get comfortable with it.

And there's pages more. She's clearly given this stuff a lot of thought, but doesn't quite know what to do with it. In interviews, she actually most often sounds like a regular person, which I didn't realize was so unusual until I realized that the current crop of actors and actresses sound like crazy people. She talks about being lonely. She talks about smoking weed and watching movies. She makes dumb jokes. Sometime she's annoying. Sometimes she sounds bored. Sometimes she's engaging. There's also, by many, or most of the journalists who interview her a "Look! It talks! Just like an actual person!" attitude that must be maddening (although Fox claims she doesn't read her own press, as it would make her crazy). She also complains about her job the way normal people do. Unfortunately (for her), she tells these things to the press, rather than her friends (of which, she claims, she has none), so she gets into all kinds of trouble.


The second act of Jennifer's Body is a mess. We see too much of what Jennifer has become too quickly, sort of destroying suspense. The idea of this pretty cheerleader being a monster and literally devouring boys is very potent and full of potential. But the thematic, horror and plot elements never really come together. The boys Jennifer kills seem arbitrary. The direction seems a little lazy during some of it - oh, and can we please retire the sexy slo-mo babe walk down the hallway at school? It's the biggest cliché ever at this point. We get it. She's hot. That's why you hired the actress you did. Duh. So I feel like I did a lot of waiting around for the climax. Also, there seemed to be something a little off about the tone of the film and the performances. Pitch black horror comedies are really, really difficult to make. Diablo Cody's dialogue is fairly mannered. This wasn't a problem in Juno as director Ivan Reitman had such strong control of the material. He had everyone play it pretty straight with as much emotional truth as possible. Any sort of wackiness or artificiality in the performances would just push it over the edge. I think that's a bit of what happens here. Fox isn't great, but it looks to me as if she's been poorly directed. Pros like J.K. Simmons and Amy Sedaris aren't terrific either. I thought the best performance in the film was from the kid who played Needy's boyfriend. I have a feeling Kusama wasn't paying enough attention to her actors.

I guess what I find so interesting is the extraordinary amount of animosity felt towards this young woman. She was recently fired from the Transformers franchise for mouthing off in the press. In an interview, she compared her director, Michael Bay to both Napoleon and Hitler. This was, to say the least, unwise. She had also been quoted saying some things that might be construed as unflattering to the Transformers franchise (they also might be construed as true) such as finding the plot of the second film to be garbled and confusing, that the stunt work was unsafe, that her own performance wasn't very good, that she doesn't understand how anyone could watch the IMAX version without having an aneurysm. So her option was not renewed. She's clearly a little enchanted with her own outspokenness, but I found (something she also seems aware of) that when watching her in televised interviews it's pretty clear that most of what she's saying is meant to be self-deprecating and are said with far more good humor than is perceived when read. But the most risible thing that I saw being brought up again and again vis a vis Fox, was the question of whether she was promiscuous, or a slut. From what I can gather, this is constantly brought up because of Fox's appearance and because she often appears in mens magazines in her underwear (Fox doesn't do nudity). There is literally zero scandal attached to her personal life. I couldn't find a single photograph of her out in a nightclub or a party, barring things that are clearly work related events. Interestingly, people like Reese Witherspoon and Hilary Swank have much more active dating lives than Fox, but the perception of them as "good girls" somewhat protects them from the truly ugly smears Fox has been subject to. Really, Perez Hilton needs to go away forever.

In the last act, Jennifer's Body picks up again. The climax is satisfying and the coda ties it together nicely. And the end credit sequence is kind of brilliant. But, over all, the film didn't work for me. I don't quite get what I'm supposed to take away from the film. Instead of being gang raped, as we feared, the indie rock band sacrifice Jennifer in exchange for fame and fortune. The catch is that they are supposed to sacrifice a virgin, and small town bombshell Jennifer is anything but, so instead of remaining dead, she becomes a demon. She's portrayed as a mass of foul mouthed insecurities that has a hard time saying no to boys. Her becoming a ravenous demon is so potentially interesting. As I wrote in my Ginger Snaps post, our culture is deeply uncomfortable with sexually aggressive woman (to quote Ms. Fox: "men are scared of a strong, confident vagina"), and if Jennifer's hunger sprung out of need, rather than a vague free floating animosity, it could have been really great.

Here's what I want for Megan Fox: I think she should take a few acting classes and find somebody she can learn from that she can trust. She needs some chops. She said in one of the interviews I read, that people's expectations of her are so low, she's bound to impress. She has also disparaged her own ability again and again, saying that she hasn't done anything, how could she be any good yet? I don't know that I find the woman herself all that terribly fascinating, but seeing how the world reacts to her is. And I like the fact that she cheerfully reports the stupidities that are heaped upon her in Hollywood to all and sundry. I also like that she seems in no danger of meeting any kind of Marilyn Monroe/Lindsey Lohan/Brittney Murphy like fate. Her personal life seems almost comically boring. I think she's a big enough deal that TMZ and the other stalkers feel the need to keep watch, but they are pretty much reduced to reports like "Megan Fox Has Weird Thumbs" (I'm not making this up, there's pages of it). "Megan Fox going the the dentist." "Megan Fox takes her dog to vet! Pictures inside!" "Megan Fox Grocery Shops!" Then, of course, was the excitement of her honeymoon. She went to the beach. She looked happy. Hollywood is a weird, weird place and being a starlet is a weird job. Fox seems to take all of it with pretty good humor. She's been somewhat painted as a baby-Angelina, and there are worse things for her to be, certainly.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

José Guadalupe Posada: Día de los Muertos

American's aren't terribly comfortable with the concept of aging or death. Wealthy women pump chemicals into their faces in attempts to preserve the dewy skin of youth, but the practice backfires more often than not, lending these unhappy, deluded souls the look of well preserved corpses laid out for burial. Old people are encouraged to live in ghettos called "retirement communities", where the only people required to deal with them are paid care givers, and each other.

Americans do, however, enjoy the pageantry of death. We celebrate Halloween, that ancient rite of death and rebirth and harvest. We love horror movies full of bloody corpses and basic cable is full of shows that consist mainly of men with recording devices shouting "Are you there?" and freaking themselves out, hoping and fearing that an actual ghost will appear. We're pretty good at talking about tragedy. But dealing with death as a part of life and the idea that all of us are one day going to shake off this mortal coil, well, that's pretty much unAmerican. We like optimism.

Our neighbors to the south celebrate death with great and storied pageantry. Día de los Muertos celebrates those one has loved and lost to the aether, one prays and eats and celebrates. It is a fitting holiday for the world's most popular death cult, Catholicism. It is this holiday that Mexican illustrator and artist, José Guadalupe Posada, is most deeply associated. His images of skeletons are justly iconic, but they really were a tiny fragment of his work. Born in 1852, he spent the bulk of his working life in Mexico City, drawing political broadsides and illustrating an amazing array of chapbooks. Interestingly, his drawings of skeletons weren't really intended to celebrate Día de los Muertos at all. The iconic La Calavera Catrina (the skinny lady in the hat pictured above) was drawn to mock the rich, saying that no matter how lovely and expensive your clothes, you too, will one day be dust and ashes like the rest of us.

A few years ago, I was smart enough to pick up a copy of Posada: Illustrator of Chapbooks. In it, are dozens of his penny chapbook illustrations. It's remarkable that so many have survived as they were considered to be pretty much disposable at the time of their publication, and the quality of the paper is terrible. Luckily, the company that produced them kept excellent archives which were lovingly cared for by the owner's descendants. Also, Posada was a wonderful artist and people aren't completely stupid. Many people held on to them. Like any jobbing illustrator, he drew many, many subjects, but they are all identifiable as his work.

I love fine art, but in some ways the applied arts: illustration, cartooning, graphic design, fashion tell us more about the texture of times past then anything else. This was the stuff that people looked at every day, what they had in their homes, and what they saw on the streets on their way to work. These were the images that lived in people's heads.

Posada died, like many illustrators of the past century, penniless and nearly forgotten. Unsurprisingly, Diego Rivera was one of the people who called attention his work long after Posada's death. His satirical edge, which is palpable in all his work, even in his illustrations for children's stories, fits in so well with the modern sensibility. Unlike with many contemporaries in England and America whose work seems cloying or dated, his does not. Posada is more akin to near contemporary, Thomas Nast, whose work was even more overtly political, but was protected by the First Amendment, a luxury Posada did not possess.

It was Mondo and his final runway collection wearing its Day of the Dead and Mexican folk art influences on its sleeve that made me want to revisit Posada. Art talks to each other, and it talks to us. Give Posada a look.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Still Dream of Uncle Tim...

Now that I've broken up with my television love, what do I do now?

Well, last year, when Bravo finally lost the acrimonious court case that ensured that Project Runway (I type those words with deep bitterness) would move to Lifetime, they developed a new competition reality show for emerging designers creatively titled, The Fashion Show. Isaac Mizrahi starred as kind of a Tim Gunn/Tom Coliccio hybrid, playing both mentor and judge. Mizrahi is a wonderful designer and has been an entertaining media presence for nearly two decades. So much, so good. But for some reason, his charm didn't translate very well to this forum. He seemed uncomfortable and affected.

I think pretty much everyone knows that the smartest thing the Magical Elves ever did was hiring Tim Gunn to act as mentor on Project Runway (sigh). The fact that they found someone as all around wonderful as he is, is of course, a miracle. But they should be lauded to the skies for interviewing him to begin with, as he was in no way an obvious choice for this sort of television show. He went to school for sculpture, then taught at Parsons School of Design for 25 years, the last seven of which he spent as chairman of their prestigious Fashion Design program. In other words, they had the foresight to think that maybe someone who has spent the bulk of their career in education might be a wise choice for mentor. Rather than, say, a pop star whose career was rapidly fading.

Which brings us to The Fashion Show v.1's most egregious error: the Kelly Rowland debacle. Now, Kelly Rowland has a nice singing voice as she proved when she was one of the members of Destiny's Child who happened not to be Beyoncé. If she had been pegged to be a judge or the host or whatnot on a singing competition show, it would make sense. As that is what Ms. Rowland does for a living. She is not a fashion designer, a fashion magazine editor, or a fashion model. She does, however, like the rest of us, wear clothing. This seemed to be her only qualification, unfortunately. She used to trail around after Mizrahi and give advice to the designers. This is pretty much equivalent to me walking around the Top Chef kitchen giving advice to the cheftestants because I have a lifetime of experience eating. It was patently ridiculous and the show suffered.

I tried watching it and kind of vaguely meant to stick with it and then I suddenly realized the whole thing was over and I had completely stopped bothering to watch. And I feel the need to add that this was when I was in the midst of a major depression and basically spent most of my time on the couch weeping, eating nachos and watching reality television. I mean, I watched that horrible Matchmaker show, but I couldn't be bothered to stick with The Fashion Show, which could be best described as: Just like Project Runway (sigh), but terrible. And I've always been fond of Isaac Mizrahi and was willing to cut him some slack, but no.

No one seemed to like it, the reviews were pretty uniformly bad, so I was surprised to see it coming back for a second season. But! They have majorly retooled the show so that it seems less like a sad imitation of (sob!) Project Runway. Kelly Rowland has been jettisoned, and she's been replaced by Iman. They really couldn't have come up with a better choice. She's a legendary fashion professional. She's intelligent, articulate and strongly opined. Mizrahi also seems more relaxed now that he doesn't have Rowland trailing along after him. The show is still far from perfect, though the emphasis on team work is interesting. There is still too much emphasis placed on "personalities" rather than the work. It's nice to see the judges (which include a Harper's Bazaar editor in addition to Mizrahi and Iman) calling out insufferable behavior, but it's frustrating to see it rewarded with airtime. Uncle Tim and Klum would never put up with this level of nonsense. But, the bulk of the designers seem nice enough and a few have created some lovely pieces.

When one's heart has been broken, after the inevitable moping around has become tiresome, I believe one should move on. I've seen two episodes of The Fashion Show (oh my God do I hate that title), but I'm not in love. They still feel as if they're trying a little too hard. But the producers seemed to have understood what the problems were in the first season, and have done a pretty good job at remedying them. The lovely presence of Mrs. Bowie is what is keeping me around for now. But the challenges and the judges decisions need to be interesting and accurate, or I'm gone. I'm still fragile.

Below, the runway show from 1995 documentary, Unzipped, incidentally proving that grownup women with personalities make much more entertaining models than armies of interchangeable fifteen year olds.