December 30, 2012

Twilight: Deja Vu

Twilight, pp. 179-188.

Goddamn, this book is bad.

The title of this chapter is "Theory". Seriously. Theory? What theory? Bella already decided Edward is a vampire and that she's okay with it. Stevenie Meyer is no longer even pretending there's any difference between herself and Bella. Theory don't bleedin' enter into it. Well, at least the chapter starts off with a bang:

"Can I ask just one more?" I pleaded as Edward accelerated much too quickly down the quiet street. He didn't seem to be paying any attention to the road.

He sighed.

"One," he agreed. His lips pressed together in a cautious line.

Whew, I need a minute to catch my breath. The action never stops (because it's yet to start)! I can probably think of a few worse opening lines than "Can I ask just one more?" if you give me a couple of hours, but it's still impressively bad. One more what?

Bella asks how Edward knew she went south from the bookstore since she was alone and so there was no one's mind to read. So we get more X-Men powers, in this case Wolverine's super-smell. So let's review all the powers vampires have so far. They're super-strong, super-fast, super-good-looking, super-not-dead, have super-senses, and heat vision. (Okay, I may have added that last one.) He then explains how his mind-reading power works: It's effective over some distance, the distance being greater the better he knows the person, up to a few miles, and he has to focus on a person to hear her thoughts as distinct from the background babble. Then she asks if he knows why he can't read her mind, and he says he doesn't know. If you've read the later books or seen the later movies, you know he's lying, undoubtedly to set up his next line to set insecure adolescent white girls' hearts aflutter:

"The only guess I have is that maybe your mind doesn't work the same way the rest of theirs do."

To keep myself sane, I can only respond appropriately, by paraphrasing a real vampire/werewolf movie: You and 20 million other girls.

"My mind doesn't work right? I'm a freak?" The words bothered me more than they should--probably because his speculation hit home. I'd always suspected as much, and it embarrassed me to have it confirmed.

"I hear voices in my head, and you're worried that you're a freak," he laughed.

I guess Edward hasn't been paying attention, since Bella is a clinical narcissist and so of course she's only worried about herself. If I were Edward, I wouldn't be a complete dick to everybody I encounter and involve young girls in my creepy abstinence power games. Plus, I would point out that I didn't say the word "freak" or even imply it and tell Bella to get over herself before dumping her childish ass at her father's house and getting out of there as fast as my vampire driving powers could carry me:

I happened to notice the speedometer.

"Holy crow!" I shouted. "Slow down!"

"What's wrong?" He was startled. But the car didn't decelerate.

"You're going a hundred miles an hour!"
...
"Relax, Bella." He rolled his eyes, still not slowing.

"Are you trying to kill us?"

"We're not going to crash."

I tried to modulate my voice. [What?] "Why are you in such a hurry?"

"I always drive like this." He turned to smile crookedly at me.

"Keep your eyes on the road!"

"I've never been in an accident, Bella--I've never even gotten a ticket." He grinned and tapped his forehead. "Built-in radar detector."

So you're immune to law enforcement because you can read the cops' minds, hmm? Well, I hate to drop this knowledge on you, Ed, but I don't think that's what she's worried about there, genius. She's probably more concerned with being turned into road pizza when you hit a full-grown deer at 100 miles per hour. Or does he read deer's minds now, too?

"Very funny," I fumed. "Charlie's a cop, remember? I was raised to abide traffic laws."

AAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH! I hate this book! I hate it! It makes no goddamn sense! People don't talk like this! People don't act like this! It's not real, it's not real, it's NOT REEEEEEAAAAALLLLL!

Sorry, I just had to avoid a breakdown, there. Also, "holy crow"? After voicing her disapproval of Edward's violation of a minor traffic law, Bella finally has a glimmer of self-preservation and asks him to slow down so that he will not "turn us into a Volvo pretzel", a crash to which he may be immune, but she isn't. He agrees to slow to 80 mph, which is just as deadly a speed as 100 mph and just as much a violation of the law, so great job, Bella! You sure showed him!

Now it's time for Bella to tell Edward her "theory" that he is a vampire. Edward assumes, as you would, that this is in fact her theory, so she continually has to clarify that, well, Jacob told her each and every part of it so that it is in no meaningful way "her" theory, even admitting that her Google search told her nothing. When she declares that it doesn't matter (which is another lie, because she's been more concerned with talking about it than with the fact that she was almost gang-raped in a dark alley), once again someone else has the reaction Bella should have, as Edward comically freaks out when he hears of her utter unconcern that he's a blood-drinking dead man. Well, okay, it's not really the reaction she should've had, since he is of course "bleak", "cold", "hard", and "mocking". (Isn't he dreamy?) But it is, at least, a reaction, which is more than we can say for Bella, whose emotional EEG has yet to spike. Edward may be a walking corpse, but Bella is the soulless monster.

Bella then asks about what other powers he has and how they match up with established vampire lore. I hope you're sitting down, but it turns out they don't match up very well. He also reveals that he can't sleep. Combine that with immortality, and vampirism does sound like one of the most horrible fates that could possibly be inflicted upon a sentient being. That Bella doesn't recognize this and continues to insist Edward make her a vampire (whoops, sorry to blow that plot twist for you) could have been the basis for actual drama, but we'll have none of that.

Edward also has to be the one to bring up the question of whether he eats people or not, since for a sociopathic narcissist like Bella, "it doesn't matter". Edward never explicitly confirms that the Cullens don't eat people, but Bella is convinced and she wrote this crap, so that's enough for me. Still, Bella reminds us, the Quileutes don't want the Cullens on their land. Sounds pretty damn sensible to me.

Then it's time to rehash the "I'm dangerous, really, I so am!" thing for, what is this, the 842nd time now? Edward compares surviving on animal blood to a human surviving on nothing but soy milk and tofu, and he tells us that at times it can be difficult not to eat people. Let's all say it together now:

"Is it very difficult for you now?" I asked.

He sighed. "Yes."

Look, Meyer, if you're going to telegraph even lines of dialogue, can we just agree that I've effectively already read this entire novel and let me go do something more fun and productive, like rearranging my refrigerator magnets or reading a White House press statement? No? Drat!

"But you're not hungry now," I said confidently--stating, not asking.

"Why do you think that?"

"Your eyes. I told you I had a theory. I've noticed that people--men in particular--are crabbier when they're hungry."

He chuckled. "You're observant, aren't you?"

Brilliant observation, Holmes! Look, Stevenie, if you're going to recycle scenes, then I'm going to recycle the jokes.

At least this passage explains my earlier issues with how the Cullens can get away with living in Forks under their original names for generations (not continuously, perhaps, but often enough that plenty of people who knew them would still be living when they came back) without being noticed. The people of Forks are apparently so unobservant they don't notice the radical changes in Edward's eye color (from amber to black) and the accompanying radical changes in behavior. Even more hilarious is Edward's being impressed at someone's figuring this out. It ain't exactly brain surgery, there, Eddie. We're not talking about eyes that sometimes look green and sometimes look blue and sometimes look grey. Forks may be a town of dullards, but anyone with even half a brain could piece that together.

Of course, a meta-explanation is that Edward doesn't behave any differently no matter what color his eyes are. So far he's been the same smug, condescending asshole in every scene. You know, like Clooney.

December 27, 2012

Babylon AD

I'd really like shit filmmakers to stop hiring Michelle Yeoh. Despite Yeoh's having proven she can actually act, nobody ever hires her for that. Western filmmakers not named Ron Moore only put Asian people in the cast when they need somebody to look convincing doing kung fu onscreen. It's a sad reality, but I've been forced to accept it. And as far as Asian people who look convincing doing kung fu onscreen, you can do a lot worse than Yeoh. Yet shit filmmakers put her in their movies and then hardly let her do any kung fu. Come on, I know it's too much to ask to allow her to act or portray an actual character, but at least let her kung fu somebody. Christ, first, That Mummy Movie with Jet Li in It, and now Babylon AD. Remember That Mummy Movie? The one that has Li, who holds some kind of speed record for punching and at age 9 demonstrated kung fu in front of the Emperor himself, fight Yeoh for 20 seconds, tops, in slow motion? Two of the most beloved movie martial artists of modern times, barely onscreen together and filmed in slo-mo. Brilliant! You've done it again, Hollywood! Well, they had to make room for more scenes of Brendan Fraser mugging like a jackass.

Babylon AD is a French-American co-production that combines the worst aspects of both countries' big-budget filmmaking industries. It stars Vin Diesel as the hilariously named Toorop, a holdover from the French novel on which this film is allegedly based, though I doubt even a French novel could possibly suck as hard as this movie. Though it does eventually wear off, it was pretty funny at first to watch a man who is legitimately able to get people to call him "Vin Diesel" being forced to answer to the name "Toorop". Anyway, Toorop is your typical mercenary who's only in it for the money until the protagonist brings out his hidden heart of gold and he begins to Care Again. We are introduced to Toorop in what I think is supposed to be a dystopian future Russia, what with Toorop hacking up a dead cat to fry up for dinner and people openly selling military-grade small arms in the street, but frankly it looks like the Russia of today to me. Toorop is hired by Russian gangster Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu--I'm so not kidding) to deliver a person to New York City. In exchange, Toorop will receive lots of money and a passport allowing him re-entry into the Empire, from which he has been barred. I hope you caught that quick bit about passports in the future being issued by means of neck injection, or you'll be very confused by the scene in which a naked Diesel puts a hypospray to his throat right before the Virgin Mary tries to seduce him before her handler's virgin alarm goes off. (More on that last bit later.)

A helicopter carrying an old car by means of a suspended giant magnet arrives to carry Toorop to the remote Mongolian monastery that houses the package, a rail-thin pale teenaged girl with the oh-so-twee name of Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) and her adopted mother Sister Rebekah (Yeoh). I guess helicopters in the future became a lot more fuel-efficient. Toorop balks at taking a second person along, but since Sister Becky is played by Michelle Yeoh, even Diesel backs down and agrees to take her, too, but not before establishing that it's just a job to him and he doesn't care and if they get out of line he'll abandon them, yadda yadda I'm-in-it-for-the-money, let's move on. A series of--well, adventures isn't really the word--a series of incidents takes place, as our troupe struggles to make it from one stolen-from-Children of Men setpiece to the next . Highlights include a Russian submarine that surfaces underneath an ice sheet (which I'm pretty sure is a nautical no-no) to pick up as many refugees fleeing Russia as can get on board before it submerges two minutes later, a group of men allegedly sent by Aurora's allegedly deceased father to get her back (apparently these are the only men in Russia who didn't think to pack heat), and Canada's borders being patrolled by robotic flying drones that destroy anything that approaches the magical wonderland of Canadia. I guess the Empire lost control of Alaska, or perhaps Alaska ceased to exist entirely.

Said drones, despite being deployed under the nominal sovereignty of Canada, seem to in fact be American drones, since one of them blasts thousands of rounds of ammunition and a number of missiles at Diesel's snowski without hitting him until he gets bored with the scene and destroys it with a single shot from his sidearm. But the director thought that was a tad anticlimactic, so Toorop destroys the second drone by flying through the air and crashing his snowski into it! Yeah, that was so much easier than shooting it one time with your pistol like you did the first one. It's not like the next scene has you throwing unfired bullets away before you reach the Canadian/Imperial border so you can safely pass through customs. Stupid movie.

Now my little droogies, I'd like to introduce the dramatic rule known as Chekov's Gun. It goes more or less like this: If you have a loaded gun in a scene, it must be fired at some point, else don't put it there. Now, people being stupid, they generally misunderstand the Gun as meaning the opposite of what it actually means, like how later generations inverted the central theme of Romeo and Juliet or Stevenie Meyer made "sour grapes" mean jealousy of success instead of rationalizing failure. That is, they think the Gun means you have to foreshadow things, and so bad film critics--which is most of them--complain that the rule has been violated when a film suddenly introduces a plot element that hasn't been established. But the gun refers not to failure to foreshadow but to failure to follow through on foreshadowing. If the gun isn't going to go off, don't establish that it's there, i.e., don't leave plot threads dangling.

How is this important to Babylon AD? The movie keeps setting up a moral choice for Toorop through the intimation that Aurora's special powers might be caused by a virus. That's right, she has powers, because, well, it's a French movie with a reedy white girl being protected by a rugged, cynical hardcase, so she's got to have powers and be the key to saving the world from a vague, unexplained but very menacing catastrophe. Her powers consist of seeing the future, "feeling" people die, and abandoning those charged with protecting her to run off with a bunch of strangers who claim they were sent by her father who is dead. Toorop is alarmed that Aurora might be carrying a virus and resolves that if she is, he will kill her rather than risk allowing her to infect others. There's even a scene in which Aurora asks Toorop if he'll really kill her if it turns out she has a virus, and he replies that he hopes he won't have to. Now obviously, she's got a virus so we can get the scene in which we wonder if he will gun down this innocent girl in the name of protecting people from infection. Except we never get that scene because we never find out why she has powers. In fact, she doesn't have the powers at all. She's the Holy Virgin who has nevertheless become pregnant with twins* that will somehow prove the Noelite religion is the One True Religion, and it's actually they who have the powers. So, do they have a virus, then? What is the origin of their powers?

Who the hell knows. This film is nearly as impenetrable as Southland Tales. What is the Noelite religion? I don't know. Aurora and Sister Becca stayed at a Noelite convent, yet it is the Noelites themselves who hired Gorsky (who subcontracted out to Toorop) to take Aurora from their own monastery and smuggle her into the Empire. Why all the secrecy, when the Noelites are the only ones who know she's carrying virginally conceived babies? I don't know. Where did the Noelites get access to an intercontinental nuclear ballistic missile capable of reaching and destroying Gorksy's fortified bunker, and why, having access to such a weapon, would they use it to take out a single Russian mobster? I don't know.

But you don't care about any of this. What you want to know is: How much ass does Michelle Yeoh kick in this movie? Hardly any. Her "fight" scenes are nothing more than a glimpse of a kick here, a single punch there, and then cutting away to something, anything else. It's like the director was ashamed to have a woman kicking ass in his movie, so that he can't bear to look upon it. And if you think you're going to see a romance between Diesel and Yeoh, clearly you've never seen a movie before. Yes, both actors are charismatic and likeable, and there's even some chemistry there, but a romance between a brown man and an Asian woman is not in the cards for a big-budget French-American co-production. Never mind that Yeoh is an order of magnitude hotter than Thierry; the only hint of romance is the scene with naked Diesel injecting himself with a dose of passport and Aurora coming up to him and almost kissing him before Sister Becky shows up to cockblock Diesel and retain Aurora's purity from the horrors of normal human interaction. Every time Aurora appeared on screen, I wanted to buy her a sandwich and give her an icepack to reduce the swelling of her enormous lips. I don't understand why wispy, spindly white women with engorged lips are apparently the world's standard of feminine beauty, but that shit's got to go. For God's sake, give me a woman who can kick my ass, not a girl I have to donate blood to every other week.

So it's a double-cross, of course, only this time it's Toorop who double-crosses the Noelites (and Gorsky's people, who are also there somehow) because he Cares and all. Of course, we already knew that because Aurora told us in the previous scene that all three of them would die in New York, so of course, that happens. Sister Reba dies of a gunshot, Toorop and Aurora die being blown up by a missile, and the movie ends.

But no, that would mean the filmmakers possessed an ounce of mercy in their shriveled hearts! No, Toorop doesn't die after all! Actually, he does die, but his body is stolen and he's brought back to life by the Merovingian, who enters the movie in the last 15 minutes to let us know that he is Aurora's father and that he's also not dead. When the Noelites hear that Toorop's body has been stolen, they immediately figure out that he's being brought back to life(!) and set off to find the Merovingian even though they think he's dead and therefore have no idea he's involved with Toorop's disappearance or where he might be. That leaves the Merovingian time to kill Toorop again and use his cybertech to figure out Aurora's moments-before-death message to Toorop. It's a message that only means anything to Toorop, so Mero zaps him back to life again and he's off to meet up with Aurora, who is also alive because her powers now include protecting both herself and Toorop from missile strikes to the face.

The Noelites immediately find them again in the secret meeting place and they have themselves a little car chase since the movie hasn't had one yet, despite the fact that only Toorop knew where Aurora was and he was gone before they showed up to kill the Merovingian. (Why didn't Mero leave, too? And if he stayed behind, why not lie about where Aurora was to buy time?) Toorop and Aurora escape, and Aurora dies in childbirth because she was "programmed to breed, not to live". Flashforward a few years, and we see Toorop raising the two kids (one black, one white!) on his own in the middle of nowhere. I guess the Noelites just gave up finding him--even though it was pretty damn easy to do it before. End movie.

Reportedly, the director was livid that the studio dared to hack some 40 minutes of footage of his movie. And I can tell you, unless it was 40 minutes of Michelle Yeoh kicking ass, we're all the better for having 40 minutes less of Babylon AD. The plot is nonsensical, the futurisitic world is blurry and indistinct, the two leads' charisma and chemistry are buried under a ham-handed religious allegory,** and the movie just fizzles out with an ending that explains nothing.

Thank God I didn't care.

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* Just for the record, the Immaculate Conception is Mary's birth free from original sin (so that that sin could not be passed on to Jesus Christ), not to the virgin birth of Jesus. The latter is called (wait for it) the Virgin Birth. Sorry, that just always annoys me.
** Not that religious movies have to be bad. One of my favorite movies is The Prophecy, people!

December 24, 2012

Everybody Still Loves Lists!

I've been writing about Twilight every week for the past four months, and frankly, I need a break. So, no Twilight this week. Instead, I thought that, since I wrote up "Gangnam Style", I ought to do "Things I Like or Dislike Arranged into Groups of Five: Pop Music Edition".

So, everybody loves lists! They're meaningless and people always think they're wrong, but we keep making them anyway. So I'm putting forward a number of my own personal top five lists. (Almost) all choices are mainstream English-language pop music with (allegedly) A-list talent, since it's hard to get discussion going when I'm tossing out bands and songs no one's heard of. No, these are generally musical acts with a major recording contract, people that somebody thought the world needed to hear. It's a bit harder to do music, since my musical tastes have changed a lot more over time than my film tastes. After all, there was a time I thought Metallica was a good band. Of course, I also once believed in Young Earth Creationism, so clearly I was once a fucking moron.

And while I'm at it, let me take a moment to make it clear that angry white men suck. Unless you're a Beatle or German, don't make music if you're an angry white man. In fact, white people just suck at pop music in general, so, really, stop. Sure, there are a few good ones, but Katy Perry is too high a price to pay. For every Joan Jett, there are a hundred Avril Lavignes, so I still say we win in the long run if white people just give up pop. Stop making music, white people. You aren't any good at it.

Anyway, on with the lists:

The Best Songs of All Time, Ever, Objectively True and Correct:
5. OutKast, "B.O.B."--If only Saddam Hussein had had the funk, he might've been prepared for Bushamania to run wild on him.
4. Tom Waits, "God's Away on Business"--Okay I'm stretching the category "mainstream pop" to squeeze Waits in, but come on, no discussion of musical greatness can exclude him.
3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "All Along the Watchtower"--When even the song's original artist acknowledges the greatness--and when said original artist is Bob Dylan--who am I to argue?
2. The Beatles, "I am the Walrus"--Any song that drops a reference to the suitably mysterious death of Edgar Allan Poe has to make the list.
1. Rammstein, "Sonne"--Music to invade Poland by.

The Worst Songs of All Time:
5. Ke$ha, "Tik Tok"--Do you enjoy listening to somebody else tell you about this great party they went to? No? Then why listen to somebody sing about it?
4. Simon and Garfunkel, "Sound of Silence"--Silence has no sound, GTFO.
3. Warrant, "Cherry Pie"--What are we, 11 years old here? A song about a hot girl...who's a pie? So, like, you want to eat her? A friend of mine in high school had a guy come on to her with the line "You smell like dinner", and that was less creepy than this.
2. Jennifer Lopez, "Jenny from the Block"--You're who now? And what block? Where? And why do I give a fuck? I don't.
1. Fergie, "My Humps"--There is no God.

So Bad It's Good Songs:
5. STYX, "Mr. Roboto"--Pretentious Japanese lyrics in a concept album track? You don't say!
4. Britney Spears, "Toxic"--When pre-adolescent girls bounce around singing these thinly-veiled-allusions-to-sex lyrics while their parents look on approvingly, you know the world deserves to burn. I'll be over here playing my violin.
3. Seal, "Kiss From a Rose"--Sappy, "romantic" pap at its most drippy, but damn it, Seal's voice makes it work somehow.
2. Duran Duran, "Hungry Like the Wolf"--Cheesy lyrics, cheesy synthesizer, but man, it do have a catchy beat!
1. Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"--ra ra ah ah ah / ro ma ro ma ma / ga ga oo la la / Want your Bad Romance!

I Liked This Song the First Time I Heard It, When It Was Called...
5. Chicago, "25 or 6 to 4", when it was called, "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You"--I know! Let's take a good, simple love song and put it on our record, only we make the title and lyrics stupid and nonsensical. Brilliant!
4. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Dani California" when it was called "Mary Jane's Last Dance"--Tom Petty by way of surfer-dude southern Californian rock-rap. Wrong answer, McFly!
3. Oasis, "Step Out", when it was called "Uptight (Everything's Alright)"--Way to steal from a blind guy, Oasis. This generation's Beatles--sure.
2. "Ice Ice Baby", when it was called "Under Pressure"--Stealing from two of the most beloved musical acts in pop music history? No wonder Ice tried to commit suicide. (Shocker, He Failed It.)
1. "Born This Way", when it was called "Express Yourself"--We all know the Gag recycles other people's baselines, but really, entire songs now?

The Most Overrated Bands:
5. Van Halen--When you're named after the world's most overrated guitarist, you're a shoe-in for this list. If you only need two functional fingers to play your guitar solo, you're Doing It Wrong.
4. The Grateful Dead--These guys made like one song anybody has even heard of, and they're legends of rock? The song blows anyhow. "Truckin'"? Moar like "Suckin'", amirite?
3. The Red Hot Chili Peppers--They only have two songs: "Fast, Rap-Rock Red Hot Chili Peppers Song" and "Slow, Soulful Acoustic-Based Red Hot Chili Peppers Song". Point to any of their songs that isn't one of those two. (You can't.)
2. Fleetwood Mac--A band made up entirely of people who want to sleep with Stevie Nicks. If only they could've made some decent music while they were at it.
1. The Eagles--I hate the fuckin' Eagles, man!

The Worst Artists:
5. The Black-Eyed Peas--Not as disgusting as actual black-eyed peas, but pretty close.
4. Steve Perry--Journey were a decent Led Zeppelin wannabe until this pasty girly-man started shrieking power ballads to stadium crowds. As a result, while people still listen to Zeppelin, nobody listens to Journey but aging hipsters with receding mullets.
3. Michael Bolton--There was nothing wrong with this name, until that no-talent ass clown became famous and starting winning Grammys.
2. Coheed and Cambria--Taught me that recording yourself throwing your guitar into a trash compactor could sell records.
1. Eminem--Stop making white people think they can rap. They can't, and you can't. Oh, and you're name is stupid.

The Bestest Artists:
5. Busta Rhymes--I don't know what his songs are about, if they're even about anything, but you can't argue with the speed, the flow, and yes, the Rhymes.
4. Black Sabbath--Okay, so they're responsible for the existence of metal, but shall we blame the great for the utter failure of their imitators? That's like blaming the Emperor for the existence of Stephen Harper.
3. The Smiths--Wait, a pasty ambisexual English guy crooning about how he can't get laid and a good guitarist? That's enough to make the list right there, but then their song also appeared in a LeVar Burton TV horror movie! What more could you want?
2. Mr. Bungle--Took pop music right to the edge of creativity while still being recognizable pop (maybe over that edge on occasion). Had their mainstream success sabotaged by Anthony Kiedis, so they must have done something right.
 1. The Beatles--Yeah, yeah, it's obvious. Look, when one band invented popular music as we know it, they kind of take the cake, hoss.

Most Overrated Songs:
5. Don McLean, "American Pie"--Just what the world needs, more pussy-white-guy folk music. Any song with the line "Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry" deserves instant death.
4. Blondie, "Heart of Glass"--One reviewer said it "represented the rise of dance music in pop culture, and the transition from the ‘70s to the ‘80s" without adding that that makes it terrible.
3. Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody"--Simmer down there, Sandra Dee. The category is most overrated, not bad. It's a good song, but when a non-fan such as myself can name a half-dozen better Queen songs off the top of my head, it's overrated. Deal.
2. The Who, "My Generation"--Oh, you don't like the previous generation, and they don't like you? Maybe it's because you can't sing or play a guitar worth a fuck. You're the Baby Boomers, the most coddled and infantilized generation of the modern age, lashing out at the Greatest Generation that killed Hitler. Do the world a favor and die of shame.
1. Guns'N'Roses, "November Rain"--This monstrosity is responsible for making people think Axl Rose has talent. These people are wrong. A passable guitar solo can't excuse 8 minutes of crap.

With all this pop fluff floating about, I figure there should be at least one category for real music, so:

The Best Actual Music:
5. Johann Sebastian Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor--Even its blatant overuse in adding atmosphere to shitty horror films can't diminish the power of this music. Fear the organ!
4. Ludvig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 14--Yeah, so, Beethoven hated it. Go here to see why I don't care.
3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Sonata No. 11--The world was not to see the like of Mozart's unparalleled musical genius again until the coming of Barry Gibb.
2. Franz Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody, No. 2--Beatlemania, you say? Liszt did it first.
1. Ludvig van Beethoven, The Ninth Symphony--Oh, bliss. Bliss and Heaven!

There! I hope you enjoyed this installment of "Things I Like or Dislike Arranged into Groups of Five". If you agree with any of my choices--and God help you if you do--please leave a comment. If you don't, then I kindly invite you to leave a long, angry rant explaining that I'm fat and stupid and probably gay and/or a furry that in no way addresses anything I said. Just know that I won't care and will only use your weak criticism as an opportunity to reveal my genetically superior intellect.

December 19, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

From the moment I saw the title Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I knew this movie would end up on the blog. With a title like that, it had no chance to be any good, so the only question was, "Is it the good kind of bad?" Tragically, it suffers from the same fundamental problem that scuttled Drive Angry, only even more so. While there are flashes of the brilliant badness that might have been, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter doesn't know what it wants to be, and so the serious "historical" stuff keeps getting in the way of the goofy vampire-slaying. The best thing about this movie remains its title.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a cheesy Blade rip-off struggling to break out of a ham-handed anti-slavery allegory. I don't know if that describes the novel it was based on because I don't read trash, but it's the film we got. There's even a scene in which white vampires literally prey upon their black slaves. Oh, I get it: Racist exploitation is bad! What an original insight! It got to be adorable how the film believed it could surprise me, with plot twists, witty rejoinders, or sudden attacks that I saw coming before the movie even finished setting them up. The only thing 19th century about this movie is the way it telegraphs every "surprise".

Benjamin Walker stars as Abraham Lincoln, the 16th Emperor of the Known World, regarded by most as one of the greatest men to sit upon the throne, who also murders people by shooting them in the back. I don't know whether or not the filmmakers intentionally did this as some kind of inversion of the way the real Lincoln was assassinated, but either way, I'd like to extend a personal fuck you to all of them for having Lincoln do this. The character is obsessed with vengeance for his mother, who died not of milk sickness but of vampire bite. In fact, no one dies in this movie in any way other than a vampire bite, even during the ludicrous Civil War battle sequences. It really makes one wonder how nobody's figured out the whole vampire thing when hundreds of people killed by vampire bites turn up in mortuaries every day.

Actually Lincoln completely fails in his murder attempt when his gun misfires, and he runs away, with the unarmed would-be victim chasing him around and mocking him. This cowardly failed assassin is the Emperor who then crushed the Southern Rebellion with one swift stroke? Lincoln finally caps the guy in the face in a way that couldn't possibly have happened as shown on screen, but it doesn't matter because mother-killing guy is a vampire and so gunshots to the face only put him out of action long enough to set up a lame, predictable jump scare. Whew! The guy wasn't human, Lincoln's conscience is clear! The vampire kills Lincoln two or three times, but since this is the silly part of the movie, Lincoln just gets some blood on his face from a beating that would kill three normal men. Then he's saved by a guy who's English for absolutely no reason. It turns out Inexplicably English Guy is a vampire hunter, though we will never once see him hunt any vampires, and he goes around finding people who get really drunk before going out to murder someone and training them how to murder vampires instead of whoever they were going to murder (unless of course, like Lincoln, the person they were going to murder turns out to be a vampire). IEG takes Lincoln under his wing and teaches him the ways of the Force, hitting all the obligatory phases of Jedi training: "with the blast shield down, I can't even see", "hatred is the path to the Dark Side", "no attachments/love/family", and using a melee weapon instead of a gun. If only someone were there to tell Lincoln that hokey religions and ancients weapons were no match for a good blaster at his side...but this movie is far too humorless for that. At least when it doesn't give us a vampire throwing horses at Abraham Lincoln.

Said horse-throwing vampire is Barts, played by Marton Csokas to a nearly Baron Harkonnen-level of cartoony villainous overacting. Alas, if only the movie had more of that. Instead, we get Lincoln putting aside vampire hunting to wed Mary Todd and become Emperor of the Known World so he can fight the vampires by abolishing the slavery that's keeping them in the South where they belong.

See, because in addition to being soulless evil blood-drinking monsters who eat babies and hate Mom, baseball, and apple pie, the southern traitors were also vampires. As in, openly vampires, with head vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell) telling the rebel leader that he will provide the rebel scum with an army of vampires to defeat the Empire's stormtroopers. He does, and this army annihilates a contingent of stormtroopers using their vampire powers. As a former vampire hunter, Lincoln knows what to do: Melt down all the silver in the Empire, make it into musket balls and bayonets, and ship it to the battlefront, because silver is the only thing that can kill vampires. (Well, fire kills them too, but how could you possibly get that on a battlefield?). The Imperial war machine of the 19th-century is so efficient that it gathers thousands of silver objects, melts them all down, makes them into blades and balls, and sends people on foot to carry them to Gettysburg in one day.

Lincoln, meanwhile, is standing atop a moving train mowing down vampires by the dozen with his axe, along with his best pals Poor Man's Christian Slater and Token Black Guy. I guess Token Black Guy trained as a vampire hunter off-screen, because he's able to chop off vampire heads with Abe's axe as well as the Emperor himself. Fortunately, the vampires don't attack both of them at the same time, so they're free to hand off the axe to whichever of them needs it. To give credit where it's due, though, it's Poor Man's Christian Slater who gets kacked rather than Token Black Guy, so at least the Black Guy doesn't Die First.

And you know, I wouldn't complain about these silly parts if the movie had stayed true to them. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter only comes alive when Abraham Lincoln is hunting vampires. When he's romancing a hot Mary Todd, getting thrown in jail for beating up slavecatchers, meeting but never really talking to Stephen Douglas, talking to Poor Man's Christian Slater about how many men are dying in this or that battle--basically, whenever the movie tries to be serious, it's just dead in the water. None of that shit belongs in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I want to see a tall, dark man in a righteous beard and a stovepipe hat bitchslapping vampires while getting a horse thrown at him by the Baron Harkonnen. The movie gives us some of that, but intersperses it with boring talky scenes that try to connect the vampire stuff to the life of the real Lincoln. As in most of his life, from early childhood to the eve of his assassination. And really, the clumsy, stupid, and useless vampirism-slavery metaphor--it's like making Hitler a werewolf: He isn't any scarier, and it trivializes the horror by divorcing it from anything human.

This is a movie allegedly about Abraham Lincoln fighting vampires, yet it's at least as much Lincoln biopic, with soaring music at Lincoln's speeches and Glory-wannabe Civil War battle sequences, also accompanied by soaring music.Try watching Van Helsing, only after every action scene, turn it off and watch ten minutes of John Adams. That's this movie. No, I'm sorry, that was a terrible thing to say, nobody should have to watch Van Helsing. Csokas is the only one in the cast who understood what this movie should've been and what kind of performance works for it. Everyone else seems to think they're in a real movie. People, there's a lady vampire in the movie just so Mary Todd Lincoln has another chick to fight! Mary Todd Lincoln! This isn't Merchant fucking Ivory.

The filmmakers completely missed out on what could've been the most gloriously stupid movie of 2012, and that's even counting Twilight, Part 4: Part 2. I've got it! New Twilight movie, only this time with Csokas in the Edward role going one-on-one with Michael Sheen as Aro for the Overacting Heavyweight Championship of the World.

Fast-track this baby! I'll have a script for ya by next week!

December 16, 2012

Twilight: Psychic Surveillance

Twilight, pp. 171-178.

Bella, her hunger sated by the end of a breadstick she nibbled, is ready to get down to what's really important: What color Edward's eyes are.

"Usually you're in a better mood when your eyes are so light," I commented, trying to distract him from whatever thought had left him frowning and somber.

He stared at me, stunned. "What?"

"You're always crabbier when your eyes are black--I expect it then," I went on. "I have a theory about that."

"More theories?"

"Mm-hm." I chewed on a small bite of the bread, trying to look indifferent. 

"I hope you were more creative this time...or are you still stealing from comic books?" His faint smile was mocking; his eyes were still tight.

His eyes were still tight? Okay, help me out here, people. What the hell is Meyer talking about? I've been on this Earth a few decades, and English is my tool, and I've never once see or heard eyes described as "tight", probably because it makes no fucking sense. But at least this passage explains my earlier issues with how the Cullens can get away with living in Forks under their original names for generations (not continuously, perhaps, but often enough that plenty of people who knew them would still be living when they came back) without being noticed. The people of Forks are apparently so unobservant they don't notice the radical changes in Edward's eye color (from amber to black) and the accompanying radical changes in behavior. Even more hilarious is Edward's shock at someone's figuring this out. It ain't exactly brain surgery, there, Eddie. We're not talking about eyes that sometimes look green and sometimes look blue and sometimes look grey. Forks may be a town of dullards, but anyone with even half a brain could piece that together.

Of course, a meta-explanation is that Edward doesn't behave any differently no matter what color his eyes are. So far he's been the same smug, condescending asshole in every scene. You know, like Clooney.

The "stealing from comic books" line is of course a reference to Bella's earlier speculation that Edward might be Spider-Man or Superman (which he basically is, though since dumb ol' girls don't buy books about superheroes, Meyer made the book about vampires). Bella does have a theory, and baby, it's the stupidest moment in the book yet. And that's saying something.

I glared at him and continued slowly. "Let's say, hypothetically, that...someone...could know what people are thinking, read minds, you know--with a few exceptions."

That's...just...imPOSSIBLE. Where the hell did she get that? She hasn't had any reason to believe Edward can read minds. Come on! He has never once told her anything that anyone was thinking. As I noted last week, the film has Edward say in the car that he read the minds of the four gangers, and during the restaurant scene, he allegedly demonstrates this power by telling her what some of the other patrons are thinking. (I say "allegedly" because Bella makes no attempt to confirm that what he says is in fact what they're thinking, because of course she knows, because Meyer knows.) But at least the film threw us that bone. The novel doesn't even do that. Out of nowhere, Bella suddenly starts talking about mind-reading. That didn't even come up in her vampire Googling!

And what's with the exceptions? Why would there be any exceptions? Is that the way most people conceive of mind-reading powers? They work on everybody except Catholics, or people under 5'3", or redheads? How hard would it have been for Meyer to have Edward occasionally let slip that he "heard" something that someone didn't actually say? The answer is not at all since the film seemed to do it with no trouble. Stephenie [sic] Meyer is just that lazy.

Our leads play this game of "hypothetically" while they both know it isn't hypothetical and admire each other for figuring out their little game in the way that only annoying pretentious teenagers can. Bella outlines that she came up with the mind-reading thing to explain how Edward was there to rescue her from the criminal scum. (No attempt is made to explain where the exceptions idea came from.) Okay, that's the most plausible explanation? Not that he has some sort of danger sense (I mean, she already guessed he was Spider-Man), or clairvoyance, or psychic powers? How about this one, honey? He's stalking you. See? It explains everything and doesn't require an appeal to anything supernatural.

They go over the "I'm dangerous" thing yet again (still not buying it), and then Edward says that he was stalking her. (Bingo!) Okay, I'm paraphrasing. He says that he followed her to Port Angeles, for her own protection, of course, not because he's a creep who enjoys breaking into a young girl's house to watch her sleep. Then he reveals that he constantly reads Jessica's mind in order to keep tabs on Bella.

If you're reading this sentence, you didn't fully appreciate the last one. Go back and read it again until you get it. I'll wait.

Five. Star. Creepy. Edward constantly monitors a young girl's thoughts. It's the ultimate invasion of privacy, a gross violation of a person's most sacred space, and Jessica is subjected to it precisely because she's been nothing but friendly and welcoming to Bella, so how does Bella react to Edward's morally reprehensible act of psychic breaking and entering in the service of his constant surveillance of her whereabouts? Shock? Horror? Rage? Fear of who else he might be monitoring?

I hope you're sitting down for this, because I don't want to be responsible for giving anyone the vapors: Bella...doesn't react. At all. Edward continues speaking about how he found her after she left Jessica's awareness--by "randomly searching the thoughts of people on the street", natch--until he heard the thoughts of the go-gangers, and Bella lets it all pass without comment. Edward explains that he kept her with him instead of letting her go with her friends because otherwise he would've stalked and slain the miscreants. Finishing his story, Edward is ready to take Bella home. Her thoughts "incoherent", Bella is clear that she doesn't want to leave the presence of the ambulating cadaver who's been reading her best friend's most intimate thoughts for the past week without anyone's knowledge or consent.

Remember, girls: If he doesn't use invasive surveillance techniques to keep himself constantly informed of your whereabouts, it isn't True Love.

Aaaaaand...chapter! Yep, Edward gets the check, they get in the car about to start a conversation...and the chapter ends, right after the conversation's opening line. Were chapter breaks mandated every 20 pages or something?

So...yeah. We're done for the week, I guess. Don't look at me, I didn't insert a random chapter break. Anyhow, tune in next week for more hot talking-to-each-other-in-the-car action!

December 11, 2012

A Defense of "Gangnam Style"

Korea has produced two great cultural achievements in the last 500 years. One of these is known and respected throughout the world, by scholars and laypersons alike, for its brilliance, artistry, beauty, and significance as a mode of communication. It is widely admired, imitated, and investigated for adaptation, and the history of its creation and propagation will be the object of scholarly inquiry for generations to come. It has done more for the spreading of Korean culture than its originator could have dreamed, and that originator has become a cultural hero to his nation.

The other is the Korean alphabet.

Yes, "Gangnam Style". Love it or hate it, you know it. It's the K-pop sensation topping the charts around the world, and because of it, artist PSY gets to meet with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who thereupon declared he was no longer the world's most famous Korean. The horse dance is silly, the video is goofy, and the lyrics are unintelligible to 99% of the people that love it, who have no idea what Gangnam is or what its "style" entails.

Yet it is undeniably infectious, and I confess I find it immensely gratifying that for all the awful crap music Korea produces, with the literally interchangeable faces of the various artists performers (thanks, cheap and widely available plastic surgery!) that appear from the ether of studio promotion and shortly thereafter disappear back into it never to be heard from again, it is one of K-pop's legitimate musical talents that has taken the world by storm. Not only that, but he has done so by means of what is, for a pop song, a rather sophisticated takedown of the very popular culture of which it is undeniably a part.

That's right, I went there.

Now I know what you're thinking: Did he fire six shots, or only five? You're also thinking I'm reading too much into a goofy pop song. "Oh, Carl Eusebius!" you toss off between sips of the 300-year-old Chardonnay that was featured as "Wine of the Week" in the most recent issue of Pretentious Twat Monthly, "PSY is the fat funny guy, and fat funny guys don't do satire. He's riding an invisible horse, for Christ's sake!" Well first, you're wrong. PSY looks like the fat funny guy, but he's more like a Korean stab at what Queen would be doing if God hadn't revealed He hates us all by killing Freddy Mercury. This is an educated man, here, and one smart enough to realize that going to some fruity music school is a waste of time if you want to be a pop musician. See, Korea is one of those weird non-American countries where people respect education and admire those who obtain it, rather than a degenerate cesspool of subhuman cretins that disavow "book larnin'" because if they learned something, they might discover they actually need other people and ought to care about somebody other than themselves and their hick inbred family-cum-marriage partners. The Imperial education system apparently operates on one simple principle: Choose a few winners and give them every available privilege so they can become brilliant scientists who invent ever more accurate and destructive weaponry, and abandon the rest to become Republicans.

Second, so what if PSY were just the fat funny guy? Sod you, being funny is hard. Have some respect.

Anyway, PSY is on record as saying the song pokes fun at poseurs. All I'm doing is breaking it down for ya.

For those of you who don't know--which is, I assume, all of you--Gangnam refers, broadly, to the part of Seoul south of the Han River that bisects the city. More specifically, it's the name of the city's southeastern quarter. It's been called Korea's version of Beverly Hills, but that's not really accurate. It's more like Korea's version of Las Vegas, without the gambling. "Now wait a minute, Carl Eusebius!" you deign to inform me from the dizzying heights of your Ivory Tower of Internet Intelligentsia, "If you take away the gambling, what would be left of Vegas? All the glitz and glamor and horrible architecture are just there to get people into the casinos!" Well, my postmodern hipster friend, that's the point: Gangnam is all the glitz and glamor and horrible architecture of Vegas for the sake of itself. There's no ulterior motive. It's pure pop culture style, gaudy for gaudiness's sake, devoid of any purpose other than to embody the emptiness of fashion. Like if Lady Gaga were a city district instead of a 3rd-generation Xerox of Madonna who recycles Ace of Bass melodic lines in pursuit of crass David Bowie-at-his-Ziggy-Stardust-worst glam.

So how exactly is the song satirical? For that, we'll need to look at the lyrics. Now, I know nobody cares about the lyrics of songs anymore. That the "lyrics" of "My Humps" didn't immediately cause a worldwide hatred of Fergie so intense and powerful that she immediately burst into flames due the concentrated rage of a billion souls is proof that lyrics don't matter. All pop music needs now is a repetitive bop-a-chicka beat so white people without a modicum of rhythm in their pale, fleshy bodies can gyrate about awkwardly in the anonymous safety of a darkened club with an outrageous cover charge and 2000% liquor mark-ups. We're talking about a society in which Cartman's "And girl you know that you're the only girl for me / Girl / Girl, you're the girl of my, fantasies / You're my girl / You're my girl / My / Girl" could very well be a transcription of any given Justin Bieber song if it hadn't come out years before Bieber was Disney-manufactured and been intended to mock pop lyrics in the first place.

There's an official unofficial version of the lyrics to "Gangnam Style" floating around, and it's not altogether bad, but it reads rather literally, as if somebody who knows a little Korean looked up the words in the dictionary and wrote down the first Imperial Standard word that appeared there. I, in my semi-divine wisdom, shall translate the lyrics more as they would be understood by their intended audience. This is important, because some of the subtlety of the satire is lost in the lyrics' literal rendering.


Here is the Korean version:
오빤 강남스타일
강남스타일

낮에는 따사로운 인간적인 여자
커피 한잔의 여유를 아는 품격 있는 여자
밤이 오면 심장이 뜨거워지는 여자
그런 반전 있는 여자

나는 사나이
낮에는 너만큼 따사로운 그런 사나이
커피 식기도 전에 원샷 때리는 사나이
밤이 오면 심장이 터져버리는 사나이
그런 사나이

아름다워 사랑스러워
그래 너 hey 그래 바로 너 hey
아름다워 사랑스러워
그래 너 hey 그래 바로 너 hey
지금부터 갈 데까지 가볼까
오빤 강남스타일
강남스타일
오빤 강남스타일
강남스타일
오빤 강남스타일
http://michelia94.wordpress.com
에 Sexy Lady
오빤 강남스타일
에 Sexy Lady
에에에에에에

정숙해 보이지만 놀 땐 노는 여자
이때다 싶으면 묶었던 머리 푸는 여자
가렸지만 웬만한 노출보다 야한 여자
그런 감각적인 여자
나는 사나이

점잖아 보이지만 놀 땐 노는 사나이
때가 되면 완전 미쳐버리는 사나이
근육보다 사상이 울퉁불퉁한 사나이
그런 사나이

아름다워 사랑스러워
그래 너 hey 그래 바로 너 hey
아름다워 사랑스러워
그래 너 hey 그래 바로 너 hey
지금부터 갈 데까지 가볼까
오빤 강남스타일
강남스타일
오빤 강남스타일
강남스타일
오빤 강남스타일
에 Sexy Lady
오빤 강남스타일
에 Sexy Lady
에에에에에에
http://michelia94.wordpress.com
뛰는 놈 그 위에 나는 놈
baby baby
나는 뭘 좀 아는 놈
뛰는 놈 그 위에 나는 놈
baby baby
나는 뭘 좀 아는 놈
You know what I’m saying?
오빤 강남스타일
에 Sexy Lady
오빤 강남스타일
에 Sexy Lady
오빤 강남스타일

Here is my translation:
Big Brother's got Gangnam style
Gangnam style

A girl who's warm and personable by day
A girl with grace who can relax over coffee
A girl who gets hotter at night
That kind of girl with a wild streak

I'm a guy
A guy who's as warm as you by day
A guy who one-shots his coffee while it's still hot
A guy whose heart races at night
That kind of guy

Beautiful, lovely
That's you
Beautiful, lovely
That's you
Are we gonna see this through 'til the end?

Big Brother's got Gangnam style
Gangnam style
Big Brother's got Gangnam style
Gangnam style

Hey, sexy lady!
Big Brother's got Gangnam style
Hey, sexy lady!
Hey!

A girl who looks innocent but gets down when it's time to get down
A girl who's ready to let her hair down
A girl who decorates herself rather than going bare
That kind of sensual girl

I'm a guy
A guy who looks sweet but gets down when it's time to get down
A guy who's ready to get totally wild
A guy with bigger ideas than muscles
That kind of guy

Beautiful, lovely
That's you
Beautiful, lovely
That's you
Are we gonna see this through 'til the end?

Big Brother's got Gangnam style
Gangnam style
Big Brother's got Gangnam style
Gangnam style

Hey, sexy lady!
Big Brother's got Gangnam style
Hey, sexy lady!
Hey!

Above the running bloke is the flying bloke
Baby, baby, I'm the bloke who knows
Above the running bloke is the flying bloke
Baby, baby, I'm the bloke who knows
You know what I'm saying?

Hey!
Hey, sexy lady!
Big Brother's got Gangnam style
Hey, sexy lady!
Hey!
Big Brother's got Gangnam style


Now let's dig into these lyrics. I'm assuming you've seen the "Gangnam Style" video, since the video's satirical elements are intertwined with those of the lyrics. And if you haven't, go watch the video. I mean, what's the matter with you? It's only the most viewed video on YouTube, which means it can't possibly be stupid and uninteresting. The first thing you have to realize is that PSY is playing a character in this song and video. I will refer to this character as "the singer" to avoid confusing the man with the role he plays. PSY sets up a caricature that is then ridiculed. This common form of mockery is apparently unknown to the music "critics" who deride the song as misogynist, I imagine because the concept of subtlety is so lost on them they're still trying to figure out who Keyzer Soze is. And let me take this opportunity to point out that pop music critics have got to be the most useless of all professional critics. I don't know what it takes for a pop hit to get bad reviews from these people,  but as shown by the positive reception of "Tik Tok", even being the most horrible sonic abomination ever to blight the planet isn't enough to earn the scorn of music critics.

So the video starts with the singer appearing to be on a beach, which is revealed to be a children's playground. This will be echoed near the end of the video, when the singer, dressed in his snazziest outfit and looking intense, is revealed to be sitting on the toilet with his pants down, showing us that what we see in a music video is merely what the camera wants us to see, which can be a great distortion of reality. Then the singer and two dancers are blasted in the face with fake snow, during which they continue to perform as if nothing unusual is happening. They look ridiculous, just as the singer looks ridiculous riding an invisible horse. The point is, no matter where you are or how snazzily you're dressed, you look stupid doing stupid things. PSY gets across what Moby was going for in his "Southside" video, only better and less pretentious (i.e., not done by Moby).

As for the lyrics, I'll start with the very first word, oppa (big brother). As a word used by a younger woman to address an older man, and one that can connote a patronizing romantic relationship between the two, it immediately establishes a patriarchal relationship to be mocked. The singer then goes through a series of matching descriptions, essentially the pretention of respectability by day and the shedding of that mask by night, when no one can call them on it. The singer of course wants his girl to be demure and unapproachable during the day (so he doesn't have the stigma of being attached to a disreputable woman) while becoming his wild girl at night, a typical male fantasy. The singer has parallel passages for himself, but they are divorced from sexuality. For example, the word I translate as "innocent" refers specifically to a woman's sexual purity, while the parallel passage for the singer ("sweet") has no sexual meaning. When I initially heard the "ideas bigger than muscles" line, I thought it was a criticism of physical appearance, which didn't jibe with the rest of the lyrics. Once I figured out the entire song was satirical, though, it made perfect sense together with the parallel passage for the man: The girl is expected to look good (better do that make-up, honey!), while the guy--who has "big ideas"--isn't expected to do the same. Forget about staying in shape, I've got ideas, man.

"Gangnam Style" mocks style over substance, the double standards applied to men and women, and all manner of falseness and pretention. Plus, it's got a damn funny goofy horse dance. Is there any wonder it's the biggest song in the world?

December 8, 2012

Twilight: Emotional Flatline

Twilight, pp. 165-170.

Edward knows that being almost assaulted and/or raped really works up an appetite, so he takes Bella to dinner. He doesn't ask her to dinner. He simply takes her.

I heard the door open and turned to see him getting out.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm taking you to dinner." He smiled slightly, but his eyes were hard. He stepped out of the car and slammed the door. I fumbled with my seat belt, and then hurried to get out of the car as well. He was waiting for me on the sidewalk.

He spoke before I could. "Go stop Jessica and Angela before I have to track them down, too. I don't think I could restrain myself if I ran into your other friends again."

Okay, this passage is so badly written I had to read it a couple of times to get what Meyer was going for. She means that Edward wants Bella to stop Jessica and Angela from (I think) searching for her so that Edward doesn't have to rescue them from those same four not-so-smooth criminals Bella just talked him down from brutally slaying.

The first time I read this, I thought Edward was telling Bella to stop the other girls from coming up to him because otherwise he would track them at some later date and eat them. And really, isn't that the more plausible reading? I mean, surely no one, having read the gangbangers' minds and found they were going to do to Bella something so terrible that it took everything he had not to kill them all where they stood, would in the immediate aftermath refer to them as Bella's "friends". I mean, there's gallows humor, and there's being an insensitive twat. I assume Bella makes the same mistake I did, since she doesn't kick Edward in the daddy marbles for calling her attempted rapists "friends".

Maybe I'm just so desperate for Edward to actually behave like a vampire that I'm seeing things, but I don't think so. Any normal person would just say, "Let Angela and Jessica know you're okay." But of course Edward is a gigantic asshole who's going to use this opportunity to manipulate Bella emotionally, so he will get rid of the girls and begin the process of isolating her from other friends and family, which culminates, as I noted in my review of Twilight, Part 4: Part 2, in her severance of virtually all non-Cullen relationships.

"Um, actually, Bella, we already ate while we were waiting--sorry," Angela confessed.

"That's fine--I'm not hungry." I shrugged.

"I think you should eat something." Edward's voice was low, but full of authority. He looked up at Jessica and spoke slightly louder. "Do you mind if I drive Bella home tonight? That way you won't have to wait while she eats."

Jessica demures about just abandoning her friend--because, unlike Bella, Meta-Jessica cares about other people, though neither Bella nor Meyer gives her credit for this. Ha! I refer to Bella and Meyer as if they were separate people because I am making a joke! Bella isn't having any of it, though.

I winked at her. I wanted nothing more than to be alone with my perpetual savior. There were so many questions that I couldn't bombard him with till we were by ourselves.

I know we're supposed to view Bella's non-reaction to being moments from being physically and possibly sexually assaulted as due to her maturity and total got-it-togetherness, but it isn't. I don't care how mature and got-it-together you are. Human beings react to situations like that. Maybe Meyer's alien leaders didn't teach her that before they sent her to Earth. Oh, and Bella, you just rode in the car alone with him to two different destinations. Why didn't you ask him then? Answer: Got to pad out the book somehow. Do I even need to mention that the film actually does something with the restaurant location? Can we just assume that from this point, the film is an immense improvement on the source material and still isn't very good? Oh forget it, I'm bitter. Let's just watch Edward order Bella around some more.

"Honestly, I'm not hungry," I insisted, looking up to scrutinize his face. His expression was unreadable.

"Humor me."

He walked to the door of the restaurant and held it open with an obstinate expression. Obviously, there would be no further discussion. I walked past him into the restaurant with a resigned sigh.

I guess "unreadable" doesn't mean what I thought it means. You can't say Twilight isn't educational. I'm learning that so many words mean the opposite of what I learned they mean. It's good to see Bella not even putting up a token struggle anymore. Her man speaks, and she, resigned, obeys.

So they go into the restaurant, and the animated corpse charms the hostess and gets them *yawn* a good table. He refuses the first table for "something more private", which Bella tells us she has never seen anyone do "except in old movies"(!), and then they order beveragezzzzz....Oh, I'm sorry, I dozed off for a second. Edward says he's waiting for her to go into shock (I'll say!), and she says she won't, and they order food while Bella drinks her Coke "obediently" (of course), and Jesus Christ get ON with it!

I got a laugh when Edward gives Bella his jacket, revealing that he's wearing a turtleneck sweater. I picture a century-old vampire looking through his closet, ready to dress for the day. "Hmm...the long flowing black cape? No, too showy. Ah, my turtleneck! Magnifique!" I guess it's not that silly, because Jerry Dandridge was a snappy dresser and he was just fine as a vampire. But then, Jerry Dandridge was hot and ate people, so he can get away with it.

Edward keeps trying to feed her, since that's how you deal with people going into shock, but Bella puts her foot down at being forced to eat delicious breadsticks.

"Really, I'm not going into shock," I protested.

"You should be--a normal person would be. You don't even look shaken."

Ah, but Edward doesn't realize that our Bella is emotionally stunted. I guess that's why it's okay for her to become a vampire, becoming forever fourteen seventeen.

She wasn't going to develop anyway.

December 5, 2012

EJO Review: Caught

Caught is the greatest movie ever, if only because there's a distinct possibility that Tommy Wiseau saw it and thought, "I can do that!" Carl Eusebius's dream evening is to watch this film and then The Room to see how little it takes to make a decent movie like this and then how badly a terrible filmmaker can cock it up. Oh who am I kidding, any evening that involves watching The Room is a dream evening.

Caught is a remake of the 429 BC Greek film Oedipus the King. It opens with fish struggling to escape a fisherman's net (oh, I get it--caught!) while the soundtrack reminds us the Director's Cut of Blade Runner came out four years earlier. Joe (Edward James Olmos) and Betty (Maria Conchita Alonso) are a married couple who run a fish shop. That not one but both of the leads are Hispanic immediately marks the film as an independent production, so lavish spectacle will not be the order of the day. The couple take in homeless drifter Nick (Irish actor Irie Verveen, in his feature debut) to live in their home and work at the store. If you've ever seen a movie before (or if you read the title of this one), I think you can see where this is going.

So Caught is hardly original, and it's about 25 minutes too long, with the extra space filled by suddenly having a character do something we've had no indication is part of that character's behavior. (Okay, it also to tries to garner some sympathy for Nick after he betrays his adoptive father-figure, and it doesn't work since the scene is so contrived.) With a story like this, it's not about seeing something new but about seeing it done well. Once again, strong acting overcomes a pedestrian script so that we get a nice little movie. The best thing to be said about the script is that it doesn't cast any character as fully to blame or wholly innocent. Everyone behaves more or less like a real person (at least real in the context of a lurid erotic drama), and the ending is tragic yet attains a kind of satisfaction. It's hardly an achievement of cinema, but if your thing is tragedy, you could do a lot worse.

Since the picture stands or falls on the its performances, let's talk a bit about the acting, beginning with Olmos's Joe. It's a challenging role to play. We have to sympathize with why Betty would be dissatisfied with the marriage, but Joe can't be such a loser that we wonder why she hasn't just left this bum already. Betty tells Nick that Joe only really cares about fishing, and indeed, the character comes alive only when he's around fish, while at home, he's withdrawn and inattentive. So you can see why Betty might stay with him so long, as he's jolly and likeable when they're working together in the fish shop, and then be tremendously disappointed that all of that goes away when they're together at home, without the fish.

If anything, Alonso has an even tougher job, since she has to pretend to be a woman sexually dissatisfied with Edward James Olmos. She is definitely the aggressor when it comes to the relationship with Nick, but she brings it across not as a Desperate Housewife(tm) but as a woman reaching out for some passion and excitement. There's a wonderful scene in which, after her first tryst with Nick, Betty makes rice pudding for the two men. Joe, oblivious to what's happening, remarks that it's been 20 years since she last made him rice pudding. They then snuggle and embrace in a way they haven't to this point, presumably just as Betty has wanted for, oh, the last 20 years. In this simple scene, we realize that Joe is withdrawn, which makes Betty lash out, which makes Joe more withdrawn, which makes Betty lash out all the more, and on and on ad nauseum. All it took was for one of them to decide to break the cycle and make a kind gesture, which is then reciprocated. The tragedy is that it took an outsider to make it happen, and by then it's too late.

Which brings us to Nick, the biggest problem in the movie. Frankly, Verveen isn't very good in the role. I was astonished to learn that he won some shit award and critical praise for this performance. He's not awful, but he's significantly below the other three principle actors, and that nearly tanks the movie because his is the central performance. He has to be so smitten with Betty that he can't leave the situation, even though his utterly unnecessary voiceover continually assures us that he's about to. (Note to aspiring filmmakers: If you aren't making either a film noir or Clockwork Orange, no voiceover. Just, just don't.) He also has to be so captivating that Betty is willing to risk everything to continue their affair in her own house while her husband is in the next room. Indeed, in every one of their scenes, Alonso looks utterly captivated (though more by what she's doing than by Nick specifically) while Verveen just stares off into space with this look of either serenity or dopiness, I can't tell which. Even after this man has been told their relationship has been discovered by a third party, he does nothing, and Verveen doesn't remotely succeed in portraying a man so taken with his mistress that he wouldn't just walk away at this point. (He's a drifter, after all, who "likes to move around".) There's an exception, in the penultimate scene, with Verveen alone on camera forced to confront his betrayal of his adoptive father-figure. He's fine here (again, not great or anything), but whenever he's on the screen with the other three principles, he can't hold his own with them.

I said there were four principle actors, and that third party is the couple's son Danny (Steven Schub), a failed comedian living in Hollywood who, to absolutely no one's surprise, eventually returns home unexpected, and the lovers are caught. (Whoops! Sorry to blow that for you.) Schub's work is quite good here, as he's totally believable as a comic trying to make it despite the fact he doesn't have it, right down to the not-very-funny jokes and the trying too hard. Danny doesn't catch his mother directly, but the evidence is there, and the movie toys with us for a long time about whether Danny has actually figured it out. He continually drops lines that could mean he knows, if you read them right, yet on the surface are plausibly deniable. Schub is so good selling this ambiguity that I suspect it was his favorite part of the role. After all, Danny's hostility may just stem from his anger at essentially being replaced by Nick as Joe's son: Nick stays in his room, wears his clothes, and cuts fish in the shop the way Joe always hoped Danny would. There's an effective bit of foreshadowing setting this up: Danny doesn't call his parents from Hollywood but periodically sends them videotapes of his act, how he's doing, what he has in the works. His parents watch these with rapt attention, until the scene in which they talk to Nick while Danny's latest video plays in the background, ignored.

I don't know if director Robert M. Young just didn't have control over the actors or if he specifically didn't present them with a single vision of what the film was to be about, but either way it actually works to the film's benefit. Because there's no one way to understand the characters, each actor is on her own page as far as her character and the other characters go. Which is just how it is with real people.

There are some rough bits. As I noted at the beginning, Danny commits an act that isn't set up at all; it seems to come out of nowhere just to pad out the running time. I recall checking the time code and wondering how there could be a half hour left since the story was pretty clearly wrapping up. The very next scene is Danny's out-of-the-blue moment, so we can add twenty minutes of filler. And it's a shame, because the film had been pretty even-handed dealing with its characters up to that point.

A real estate developer who wants to buy Joe's fish shop is named Donald Crump. (Come on, really?) When Nick appears shirtless in front of Betty, only a few days after he's been in the house, the actor's ripped bod doesn't look anything like a man who's been living on the street for as long as the film implies. Near the end of the film Betty declares that she loves Nick, even though the characters have shared virtually no romantic interaction outside of their illicit sex. Betty should know better than to think this is love. Indeed, Alonso seems to know better, playing the character as if she has real love for no one but Joe throughout the film, and this declaration of love is the only time her performance rings false.

As noted, the movie isn't ground-breaking. In fact, it's so predictable I felt like I'd written the script myself (at least until Danny's out-of-the-blue moment, because I immediately thought of a better way to bring about the climax given the situation the film presented). But the acting is strong, the characters behave in believable ways in the context of the story and world they inhabit, a character makes a choice in the age-old conflict between loyalty to the state and piety to one's father (the right choice, in fact), and the final scenes are a satisfying conclusion, particularly the very last scene. Everyone in the tragedy suffers and the ending can in no way be called "happy", but the most despicable of the characters gets what's coming to him, which is more than I hoped for. If you prefer your erotic thrillers grounded and not tawdry, contemplative and not flippant, Caught might be your cup of tea.

December 2, 2012

Twilight: Near Miss

Twilight, pp. 157-164.

When we left Bella, she was too busy moping to pay attention to where she was going. As it happens, she stumbles over to the seedy side of Port Angeles. And baby, you will never find the more wretched hive of scum and villainy. I mean, just check out one of the four dastardly villains that accost Bella in an alley:

Two of them had paused, and the other two were slowing. The closest, a heavy-set, dark-haired man in his early twenties, seemed to be the one who had spoken. He was wearing a flannel shirt over a dirty t-shirt, cut-off jeans, and sandals.

A fat guy in sandals--my God, the horror! Run, Bella! A guy like that, who knows what he'll do? He might offer to sell you marijuana!

Flannel over a t-shirt, cut-off jeans, and sandals were what all the guys in their early twenties were wearing in 1992 2005. Meyer sure has her finger on the pulse of popular culture!

I'd also like to point out that this reprobate, who will be around for all of eight pages, has been given more of a physical description than Jessica, who didn't even get clothes. Hell, we get about as much as for him as we got for Edward. This must be part of Meyer's "don't show, don't tell" writing strategy. The vaguer your characters are, the more they can be whoever the reader wants them to be, and the better to be your wish fulfillment, my dear.

The rapscallions chase Bella around the back alleys of this Port Angeles Skid Row--well, they don't chase her so much as "casually stroll after her as she kind of meanders around". These passages are some of the worst writing yet, such as when Meyer makes it a point that Bella, who is being stalked in the night by four strange men in the bad part of town, feels a chill that "had nothing to do with the weather". (Thanks!) When the hoods finally get her cornered, Bella is choked with fear and just barely musters the energy to demand they stay away from her. One of the four, apparently thinking he's Huggy Bear, responds, "Don't be like that, sugar." This devastating riposte sends the other three into hysterics, and Bella prepares herself for combat, resolving that she isn't going to go down without a fight. Get ready, my little droogies. Bella Swan is about to do something!

Suddenly, just when we most expect it, Edward appears to the rescue!

Headlights suddenly flew around the corner, the car almost hitting the stocky one, forcing him to jump back toward the sidewalk. I dove into the road--this car was going to stop, or have to hit me. But the silver car unexpectedly fishtailed around, skidding to a stop with the passenger door open just a few feet in front of me.

"Get in," a furious voice commanded.

It was amazing how instantaneously the choking fear vanished, amazing how suddenly the feeling of security washed over me--even before I was off the street--as soon as I heard his voice. I jumped into the seat, slamming the door shut behind me.

All right, Bella's going to--oh, wait...but she was just about to...So you're gonna--oh, right. Okay. Right.

Now that a man is here, of course, everything's perfectly all right. One would think Bella would be a little in shock, a little bewildered, a little upset and emotional given she's just narrowly avoided being assaulted or worse. But nope, she's fine. So fine, in fact, that she asks Edward if he's okay! He'll eventually ask her if she's okay, but only after telling her to put on her seat belt, telling her that he's not okay, driving around for a while, and finally stopping the car in the middle of nowhere. Why? Because he's mad, and so of course his anger at these four men for threatening his privileged access to Bella's body (not that he's interesting in actually make use of this access, only in maintaining its integrity against the challenge of other men) trumps any question of her psychological well-being.

But I felt utterly safe, and, for the moment, unconcerned about where we were going. I stared at his face in profound relief, relief that went beyond my sudden deliverance. I studied his flawless features in the limited light, waiting for my breath to return to normal, until it occurred to me that his expression was murderously angry.

"Are you okay?" I asked, surprised at how hoarse my voice sounded.

"No," he said curtly, and his tone was livid.

It's time for your old pal Carl Eusebius to check in with you neurotypicals again: Is this normal behavior? Imagine: You were this close to being physically beaten by four toughs--possibly raped, as Bella earlier feared "they might be something worse than thieves". Would you even give a thought to the fact that you get to see the guy you haven't seen in four days? Would that form even a small part of the flood of relief you felt in the immediate aftermath of escaping that situation? Who's crazy here, Meyer or me? Because one of us definitely is.

And I do de-clare, I believe it's here on page 163 that the word "said" for dialogue first appears. Hallelujah, hallelujah!

"Distract me, please," he ordered.

"I'm sorry, what?"

He exhaled sharply.

"Just prattle about something unimportant until I calm down."

Has anyone been keeping track of how often Edward gives Bella "commands" and "orders"? Because it's fucking often. And it's nice that Bella, upon hearing the word "prattle", doesn't immediately think of Jessica as I half-expected her to do. Bella does talk about something unimportant--so unimportant that I've skipped it up until now and I'm going to skip it again--until we get this.

"What's wrong?" My voice came out in a whisper.

"Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, Bella."

Hold on, just give me a sec, here...I know I've...ah, here it is, The Abuser's Handbook page 34. Allow me to give the full quotation: "Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, and at those times, you might find yourself accidentally falling down the stairs."

But no, Edward's not an abuser! (Well, he is, but his is emotional abuse.) He just means that he desperately wants to kill the hoods. Wait, why does he want to do that? All he saw was four people standing around Bella. This is a crime that warrants death? As I've noted, Edward can read thoughts, so presumably he saw in their minds that the scum were going to do something terrible. But Bella doesn't yet know he can do this. Since she isn't particularly affected by what should be at the very least an experience to shake you up a little, isn't she curious how he knew to come screaming around the corner at that exact moment? Because that's what happened. It isn't like he was just passing by, happened to see what was going on, deduced it was something terrible almost instantly, and put pedal to metal. He comes around the corner already driving like a maniac and heading right for them, so actually he didn't even see what was happening. Bella, of course, doesn't ask about this, just like she didn't ask how he can stop a speeding van with his bare hands. (No, I'm not going to let that one go.)

Once again, the Twilight film improves on this scene by having Edward almost immediately say that he saw the lowlifes' thoughts and so in a sense saw what they were planning to do. This also drops movie-Bella another clue that Edward isn't what he seems (because movie-Bella, as I've noted, has to piece together Edward's vampire nature on her own). Here, though, he doesn't say that, so we're left with Edward in a murderous rage over events he didn't witness, and Bella doesn't think to ask. She clearly isn't traumatized by her experience, and so why doesn't she ask why he's there, how he knew she was in danger, how he knew what was happening, and how he knew so certainly that he's in a murderous rage about it?

She doesn't ask because, of course, she knows. Because Stephenie [sic] Meyer knows. No one in this novel behaves like a real person, or even a believable character in a trashy vampire romance novel.* They never behave in any way other than to move the plot (such as it is) forward. In fact, Bella won't ask why he was there for another eight pages. During that time, they meet up with Jessica and Angela, blow them off (what, you expected them to spend a single moment with other people?), go to a restaurant, and talk about nothing for several minutes, and then Bella wonders how Edward was suddenly right there right when she needed him, because that's when Meyer is ready to tell us. And Bella never asks why he's as angry as he is, why he's having the emotional reaction she should be having.

I'm beginning to wonder if Bella could pass a Voight-Kampff test.

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* I'm rather surprised that necrophilia is not only as popular as it is today, but as socially acceptable as it is, if only in the realm of fantasy.