Sunday, February 24, 2013

Don't Watch Butter, Please

One can go a long way with honest scientific inquiry as an excuse. Why shouldn't one read all of the Twilight books, after all? They are, or were, a legitimate cultural phenomenon. Why shouldn't one delve into the strange world of fan fiction? Isn't that an interesting way to see how people absorb and reflect media? Why shouldn't one then extend one's study into the strange, choose-your-own-reality realm of celebrity gossip? Doesn't that have value as a kind of funhouse mirror version of our current political environment?

Almost anything can be studied and many such endeavors prove worthy of one's time. But there's at least one act that is worthy of no one's time: watching the movie Butter. It is a piece of cultural detritus entirely without merit. I watched it today, and I am sorry that I did.
Here's what happens (spoiler alert for the next three paragraphs, so skip them if you hate yourself and plan on watching this movie even though I am explicitly telling you not to):

The story's about Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner), wife of a beloved butter carver who takes up her husband's (Ty Burrell) hobby after he is forced out of the county competition after 15 years at the top. Her husband cheats on her with a stripper (Olivia Wilde) and has a daughter from a previous marriage (Ashley Greene) but nearly every suggestion of an actual plot line involving him vanishes into the ether immediately. Laura becomes an expert butter carver after one scene where she practices a little, and then it's time for the competition. Meanwhile Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone play foster parents with a little black girl named Destiny (and also another foster child who appears and disappears like a shadow) who turns out to be pretty talented at butter carving too. Oh, and also Olivia Wilde is trying to extort money from pretty much any or every member of the Pickler family, and no one seems to care, not even her.

After Destiny beats Laura at the county competition and Laura makes several racist and classist speeches that seem uncomfortably positioned such that viewers can either laugh at her evil or applaud her straight talk, Laura fucks her old flame Hugh Jackman (who has never seemed gayer than during his monologue praising the tightness of Laura's pussy) and persuades him to claim that he helped Destiny with her carving. Despite the fact that his claim is laughable on its face (there were literally a hundred people in the room watching the entire time Destiny created her sculpture), Destiny agrees to a rematch. Then, Olivia Wilde shows up in Ashley Greene's bedroom and performs oral sex on her in an entirely pointless and not even gratuitous scene. (That this movie seems to think two girls kissing is radical is a whole other thing.)

Then the butter carving happens again. Destiny recreates the one picture she has of herself with her birth mother and Laura does a car or something. The night before the judges are to view the new sculptures, Hugh Jackman (who we last saw outraged at Laura for making him malign a ten-year-old and realizing he'd been used) breaks in and partially melts Destiny's sculture with a blowtorch. But the judges love it, mistaking the vandalism for an intentional commentary on parental abandonment, and Destiny wins again. She and Laura share a hug in which Laura appears to realize how awful she's been and Destiny appears to forgive her, but after that neither thing seems to have happened. Rob Corddry adopts Destiny and Laura goes into politics. Nothing else happens to anyone. The end.
Longtime readers of this blog will recall Butter's troubled history. Initially positioned as a parody of the 2008 election, it was shelved and retooled and positioned for release a second time with the operative political female changing, in press releases and sound bites, from Hilary Clinton to Sarah Palin. For whatever reason, that plan fell through as well (there are interviews over the space of several years with Ashley Greene that describe the release of the film as imminent). After a third, furtive round of press that positioned Laura as more of a Michele Bachmann type, the Weinstein Company kicked it out a back door last summer.

The endless retooling shows HARD. This movie is such a hack job, you can practically see the jagged scissor marks on the sides of the screen. Huge portions of dialog and exposition come in the form of voice-over--from multiple characters and perspectives, no less! (Sometimes it's past tense, all-knowing shit, other times it is present-tense internal monologue, and toward the end it is almost entirely PRAYER. Like honestly this movie has more in common than Tree Of Life than you'd think.)
Ashley Greene and Ty Burrell's characters seem like they might have had, at one time, significant enough backstories to explain their erratic behavior, but they don't anymore. Hugh Jackman changes motivations and accents a startling number of times, which is especially notable since he has a cumulative five minutes of screen time (a healthy share of the voice-over, though!). The end of the movie is downright sociopathic, failing to understand human emotion on multiple levels.

Rob Corddry is fine, but his loving, adoptive father character is pretty deeply undermined by a bizarre and seemingly truncated speech in which he tells his foster child Destiny that he and his wife could adopt a baby if they want one but are just too scared. Cool story, dad! And Olivia Wilde seems like she could be funny and/or sexy if she had a better script and editor and director and producers. But she doesn't.

The Oscars are tonight, and the fact that the Weinsteins talked this movie up as a potential awards candidate is a million times funnier than the funniest joke in this movie (which involves Kristin Schaal running and talking at the same time and isn't even that great). Less funny is the fact that I watched this fucking thing instead of Life or Pi or Beasts Of The Southern Wild, the two best picture nominees I missed. Don't watch Butter. It's terrible and unworthy of your time. Trust me.

Butter is available on Netflix Instant Watch. I'd provide you with a direct link, but no. I refuse.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Wrapping Up Skins (I Think That Counts As A Pun In England)

SKINS S2E6: Tony

Skins has played around with reality plenty by now, but here's our first journey into pure abstraction. The bulk of this one consists of Tony seeming to visit a college, but in the end almost everyone he interacts with almost certainly isn't real. Chief among them is actress and noted Ashley Greene doppelganger Janet Montogomery, who appears from nowhere, leads Tony on manic pixie adventures, antagonizes him into fucking the shit out of her, and then turns out to be a figment of his imagination (probably). It is, notably, the first even remotely graphic sex scene on a show that has always had a reputation for being nothing but graphic sex scenes. Ironic then, that the only real one is, in fact, not real. Still, good show, Janet Montgomery.
Fun fact: Janet Montgomery, back when she had a Twitter, once RT'd me telling someone else she'd get really famous because she looked like Ashley Greene "without the meth nose" and took her clothes off more frequently. Sorry about the stuff I say, everyone!
Ashley Greene Or Janet Montgomery? I'm honestly not even sure!

Generally people like Aaron Sorkin and Charlie Kaufman's fake brother Donald have ruined the "psyche made manifest" character for me, but I enjoyed this episode. There are lots of strange pretentious fragments and flourishes throughout, like Effy reading Tony a story, and the encounter with the burned man on the train. When an angry professor tells Tony that he's nothing but "A little fucked-up jumble of misdirected immature polysexuality and pure, arrogant, impotent rage," the show seems to have cued up a simple rejoinder in our minds: "Yeah, so? What's wrong with being just that, for a while?"
SKINS S2E7: Effy

When DC Comics killed off Superman, they introduced a half-dozen or so new Supermen to take this place. There was a tacit admission, therefore, that one guy wasn't going to fill the gap, and the new Supermen individually only reflected portions of what made Superman who he was. The same thing is happening with Tony (who isn't dead but nonetheless sapped of his powers), and you can see how, in different, individual ways, Effy and Cassie have stepped into his vacuum. Cassie in the way she deals, stone-faced, with Sid, and Effy in the way she has an almost omnipotent presence in the lives of her friends and the exigent members of the Skins gang appearing in this episode. She is the all-seeing, all-destroying whore of Babylon, and she's been my favorite part of this entire second season. (Somewhat uncomfortably, Kaya Scodelario was only sixteen when this episode was filmed. The more you know.) Especially since it looks like Sid is back with Cassie now and Tony with Michelle. The old kids are so boring, with their coupling and their drama, right? I just want to run around setting fire to shit with Effy for a while.

One assumes that the idea of replacing the Skins cast every two years was a planned notion. And yet, this episode feels a lot like the writers were suddenly told they had to wrap up all plot points in the space of three episodes. Thus Jal's hidden pregnancy rushes to the forefront, and Chris is stricken with a mystery illness that was only foreshadowed the tiniest little bit. One can justifiably be a little offended at this turn of events. Still, there are small delights to be had: Jal's brothers, Cassie, the Spanish-speaking motif. But I'm worried about Chris, you guys.
SKINS S2E9: Cassie

You'd expect the spiritual sequel to the first season's "Cassie" episode to be a great one, and this doesn't disappoint. For the first time really ever, we stay with Cassie's fixed perspective for the full hour, which gives us a kind of tourist status in the lives of everybody else. Standing a few feet out of the circle ends up rendering everything all the more devastating: Chris's death (RIP!!!!!) is harder to take without the catharsis of seeing everyone react (at least not yet). And Cassie's abrupt appearance in the US is strange and wonderful, if implausible (post 9/11, nobody's letting Cassie in an international flight). Also notable for the more enthusiastic Sid/Cassie shippers is a fairly explicit sex scene between the two. Tony fucking his superego was apparently the beginning of a trend. RIP Chris, again. If I'd watched this show straight through instead of taking a six month break in the middle of S2, this would have ripped me to my core. But at least we still have Gendry in Game of Thrones, and Joe Dempsie's amazing Twitter account.
SKINS S2E10: Final Goodbyes

The frustrating thing about this episode is how much time it spends on people we don't care about. Chris's dad and his friend. Sketch. And giving the biggest speech to Jal even feels a little weird. Sorry Jal! But at the end it gets good. Maybe not end of Season 1 good, but still. The most emotionally cathartic moment maybe EVER comes when Tony says goodbye to Sid at the airport. Which is weird because like, they'll probably see each other again! And Chris fucking DIED! And yet I'm more moved by the totality of their friendship really dawning on Tony, and his heartbroken expression when Sid finally goes. Nicholas Hoult is really a wonderful actor. And ending with Effy's malevolent smile kind of hooked me for the next series. But as far as BLOGGING SKINS goes, the airport door is swinging around finally empty. We were good when we were good. But now it's over. Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I'm sending back my copy of Looking For Alaska to MagentaBitch, because her brother is "vaguely interested" in reading it. That's a worthy cause, and I'm happy someone else gets to (vaguely) read this book. Because it's good. I could see a world in which I discovered Looking For Alaska at 15 and reorganized my life around it. I can think about the cumulative impact books like The River Why and The Catcher In The Rye had on me and can see how Looking For Alaska would have been mostly the same, but perhaps a little better. Generally grossed out by the idea of community vis-a-vis YouTube though I am, I can see how being a nerdfighter, to a lot of kids, would be fucking rad.

But that doesn't mean Looking For Alaska was fun to write about. In some ways I ruined my chances at being able to blog anything by starting with Twilight, which became exponentially more insane in ways I would never have predicted. No other book SPIRALS OUT OF CONTROL like Twilight does. Or, the ones that do, do so on purpose, which is a little less fun. So yeah, I quit Blogging LFA because I couldn't imagine anyone reading the things I was writing. Better to just read the book, which more or less comments on itself. But as I picked though the copy of the book MB sent me, making sure there were no sexy polaroids tucked in there or anything, I saw a few notes I'd written in the margins and realized that I could at least wrap the book up in broad strokes, for the sense of closure and all that.

So what else happens? Alaska and Pudge spend Thanksgiving break watching porn and drinking wine. Alaska says things like, "I still ruin everything. I still fuck up." And also things like "You love the girl who makes you laugh and shows you porn and drinks wine with you. You don't love the crazy, sullen bitch." And Pudge says things like "There was something to that, truth be told." There's also this section:
I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was a drizzle and she was a hurricane.
Note I wrote in the margins of page 88: GET THIS SHIT TATTOOED ON YOUR FACES, NERDS
I mean it's a nice little paragraph, and it can be nostalgic for readers who have already moved past feeling like this in favor of wanting to FUCK EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME (I mean c'mon Pudge you just watched porn with this girl!) and it can be comforting to readers who aren't ready to incorporate sexuality into their feelings quite yet (i.e. losers). But what a goofy dismount! Tumblr URLesque is the best way I can describe it that final line. UGH. But overall, the whole Thanksgiving break bit is very nice, and sweet, and romantic. And then on page 89 Alaska misuses "winter of [our] discontent"* and I lost all sense that anyone could be attracted to her.
(*"Now is the winter of our discontent" means that our discontent is almost over. We've been through the spring and summer and fall of discontent, see? So when people use it to be like, "I'm so depressed," they're doing it wrong. ANYWAY.)

Note I wrote in the margins of page 93 (after underlined phrase "the highway's monotonous lullaby"): RELAX JOHN GREEN

Then everyone comes back. Lara tries to give Pudge a beej by just popping his dick in her mouth and sitting there, waiting for it to do something. Later The Colonel points out that you also aren't supposed to blow, despite the name. I had not read this book when I made my "Nerdfuckers" video, so I'm pretty sure John Green and I both used to watch the MTV Soap Undressed.
And then the gang pulls a prank. It involves sending forged letters home to the parents of their enemies, and it is needlessly complicated, and only slightly more fun than hearing a real friend describe a prank he pulled in high school. The Swan who lives by the pond bites Pudge on the ass, which turns out to be the bird's entire purpose in the book. So, yeah, I'm glad that was in there?

Later, Alaska reveals the rosetta stone of her MPDGdom: when she was a young girl, her mother suffered an aneurysm in front of her. And Alaska wasn't like those miracle toddlers or dogs you hear about--she didn't call 911. She froze, and watched her mother die. Pudge shares with us one of his darker last-word anecdotes: when William McKinley was dying, his wife became hysterical, crying and screaming that she wanted to go too. And he told her: "We are all going." According to Sarah Vowell in her book Assassination Vacation, Ida McKinley passed the rest of her days knitting socks in a chair. The McKinley museum displays her silk yarn bag, on which she'd sewed a picture of her husband's face.

I wish there was a funny anecdote to balance all of that out, but I read Vowell's book a long time ago and am only just skimming it now. Her McKinley section is mostly about how The Republican party turned from the antislavery party of Lincoln to the neo-con World-Dominion party of George W. Bush. So, you know, not exactly laugh-a-minute. But did you know that Thomas Edison popularized the electric chair as part of a campaign to smear his opponents at Westinghouse? Their AC electricity was becoming more popular than his DC, and so Edison started showing people how AC current could kill dogs and horses. Prison wardens were like "Hey! Do you think that could kill people too?" And Edison suggested that the verb form of "to kill with electricity" be "to Westinghouse" someone. DICK MOVE TO THE MAX. How does that relate to McKinley? Leon Czolgosz was the only Presidential Assassin to be executed that way. (John Wilkes Booth was shot during a standoff with Union soldiers, Charles Guiteau was hanged, and Lee Oswald was a patsy--JFK was killed by aliens.)
And then, the thing happens. The thing that we've been counting down to (after this the timeline reverses from "X days before" to "X days after"). Alaska gets drunk one night and makes out with Pudge. Somewhat creepily, the Colonel is sitting there the whole time. Very Pattinson in Little Ashes. A while after passing out, Pudge is woken by Alaska, who is hysterical and asking his help in getting her off campus undetected. Pudge does as he is told, distracting the principal so Alaska can drive off into the night for reasons unknown. And she crashes her car into a police barricade and dies.

You only sort of see it coming, and it hurts. And it is at once very MPDG (Alaska is so MPDG she can't even EXIST) and very antiMPDG (she doesn't help Miles grow or learn to appreciate life--she confuses him and teases his dick and then is gone and he's full of blind rage and guilt and horror). The entire school reels at her death, which Pudge both appreciates and resents. They learn that her BAC was very high, and Pudge and The Colonel try to reconcile their complicity in her death.


Failing that, they fall headlong into investigating the cause of her death. Complicating the fact that she was drunk is the manner in which, the police report, she drove to her end: straight and fast. Pudge is angry at the idea that she committed suicide, and however patriarchal or terminally Western or whatever else his attitude about this is, at least it's honest. They chase down many leads and really only meet people who are just as fucked up and confused over Alaska's death as they are, and in the end realize they'll never know. The title Looking For Alaska ends up reflecting that "life's mysteries" theme of the whole book: What happened when Alaska died? What happens when anybody dies? What is the labyrinth?
After Alaska died, I was a little worried that we'd get moralized at, but we don't. Pudge doesn't quit smoking upon realizing that life is precious or any of that shit. He does find comfort in his World Religion class, and the teachings of The Old Man, and there's where your warnings that LFA was conceived as Christian Fiction started to worry me. But Pudge's faith-based realization is nondenominational; the book doesn't end with a "Coexist" sticker, but it almost does. But it's fine. Again, it's something a less-jaded version of me would have adored. And then the gang plays another prank, but you'll have to read the book to get the details on that. I don't have all day!
So there you have it, more or less. I mean, plenty of other shit happens (I know I haven't mentioned the character of Takumi at all in this summary. THAT WAS ON PURPOSE), and if anybody wants to have a specific discussion about one element or another LET'S DO, but I felt bad about never wrapping this series up and now I have. I mean part of me kind of thought it would be funny to leave it open-ended, like many of the book's unanswerable questions, but there's a level of meta-insufferability that even I'm not willing to cross. If you read this book, what did you think of it, overall?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Esquire's Profile Of Ashley Greene Is Every Bit As Insane As We'd Hoped

The day has finally come: Esquire has finally written a profile about Ashley Greene. At least, I'm pretty sure that is who they are writing about.
"Well, I'm from Florida!" she declares. And, truth is, somehow the simple joyous force of this incongruous assertion makes us peas in a pod in that moment. She drops her anecdote, leans against the table, gets just a little closer, and I can smell her shampoo. She has her finger twirling the inside rail of her large hoop earring.
THE JOYOUS FORCE OF THIS INCONGRUOUS ASSERTION. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Remember my predictive Ashley Greene profile from August of last year? Rule #1: "Always begin in media res." Dig the first sentence:
She's telling a story with a punchline, building up to something.
NAILED IT. Rule #2: "Always focus way too much on a single gesture". I'll give myself half-points here, as Tom Chiarella (the master of bonkers profile writing) repeatedly talks about Ashley Greene's "fragile-looking" hands: the way she points around herself (I guess as if putting her comments in geographic context), the way she covers her mouth when she "barks out" a laugh, and then of course, the earring twirling from above. Rule #3: "Act like a dumb comment is really smart." Chiarella relates a portion of their conversation in which he tells her he is from Indiana and she seems to think Indiana is part of, or at least proximate to, Florida. He doesn't press her any further on this, but, as you can (sort of!) see above, interprets it as profound. OK, but now I really just want to sit Ashley Greene in front of blank map of the United States and see how she does filling them in.
Back in August I mandated that the profile then begin to describe the woman's physical form in leering detail. But as the recent profile of Mireille Enos indicates, Esquire's new jam is focusing intensely on a woman's hair. And indeed, Greene's hair "falls straight and true on the nape of her neck" in the very first paragraph. But Chiarella is just getting warmed up.
She touches the end of her hair, flicks the silky weight of it over her shoulder, and looks in like she's sharing a secret.
This is another one of those sentences that is probably hidden somewhere in every issue of Esquire, like the Superman logos in Seinfeld.
She smiles, eyes a little wet and dark. Then, without seeming to consider it, she pulls out her hair clip, runs her hand through that hair, and shakes her mane, so it seems to gain volume. There she is then: mussed up and still full of intention.
Profound implications based on the movement of hairdid Mireille Enos ghost write this? And then, the master stroke:
She laughs and a blush climbs from her chest upward along her neck to her cheeks and eyes, all the way into her hair.
Her fucking hair BLUSHED? You're right, Chiarella. This lady IS talented.
That dismount is especially amazo-galling when you read how, midway through, this piece dissolves into utter fucking madness. I can't even BEGIN to understand what is happening, Tom Chiarella is out on goddamned safari with this shit:
Nor is the petite sorority-girl Ashley Greene, who sits before me today, the least bit icy; she's just a girl with a Day-Timer pinched on the seat between her thigh and purse, a vessel of responsibility. In fact, she's so relaxed, so cat-stretched against the promise of two hours of conversation and a bowl of soup that you'd think she might have settled into a comfort zone about work. But in fact: "What Twilight gave me was years to consider how I wanted to work otherwise."
WHAT ON EARTH? I feel like I have barely scratched the surface hereI mean we haven't even gotten into Ashley Greene's sudden claim that she doesn't drink?but just click here to read the whole, glorious thing. And also to watch a video in which Ashley Greene leads you around a house, presumably in search of a suitable surface to fuck on. Tip of the hat to StarryEyed_A, who linked me to this article this morning, and also obviously to the sociopaths at Esquire. Keep up the stellar work.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

SKINS S2E5: Working Class Hero

So this is a kind of "careful what you wish for" thing, I guess: here we have an episode that almost exclusively focuses on Chris, and features Cassie more heavily than usual (I'm saying she's in it a lot, not that she's over her eating disorder issues. Whoa, sorry). Theoretically, this should be the best episode of Skins ever. And yet, it doesn't add up to much. (I had a similar reaction to Alice/Bella slash fiction. Why can I never be happy?!) However, it is a lot of fun to see Cassie playing essentially the role of the villain. EVIL CASSIE! When she says, "Well, fuck you" to Jal I was like YEAHHHHH.
What happens is, Chris gets kicked out of school for being too Chris-like. So Jal challenges him to be less Chris-like, and to actually "play the game" for once. In return she promises to say "yes" to more stuff, essentially agreeing to temporarily adopt Chris's depravity while he is on vacation from it. This Trading Places-y dynamic (or, Joey and Phoebe's meat bargain, if you will) could be kind of fun, but it is mostly underdeveloped. Jal has exactly one scene in which she throws caution to the wind (unless you count failing to use birth control, later on) and then her half of the story is basically dropped.
Meanwhile, Chris tries his luck in the private sector. Eventually, he finds a calling as a real estate agent, and he and Jal begin a romance.
Unfortunately Chris is living in one of the flats he is supposed to sell, and pretty soon a homeless Cassie is crashing and fucking there too. (The bit of this episode that rings the most hollow, to me, is the way Chris and Jal seem annoyed at Cassie interrupting their intimate moments and throwing parties without their consent. That's pretty much expected behavior from the Skins gang, is it not?) So it's only a matter of time before all that catches up to him. And when it does, so does Angie, briefly jeopardizing his relationship with Jal.
But "briefly" is the key word there, because as soon as everything goes wrong, things start going right again. A guilty Angie gives Chris a place to stay. He makes a low-rent power-point presentation to Jal to win her back and goes to find another job. Everything is coming up Chris! Oh, Jal is pregnant, but I'm sure that won't be a big deal or anything.