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.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

SKINS S2E4: On The Beach

OK, enough with these endings. Fool me once by dangling the fate of Sid and Cassie over my head, shame on me. Fool me twice by dangling the fate of Sid and Cassie over my head, well, when that happens it becomes clear that their relationship is more important to the audience than it is to the showrunners.  So… shame on them! (This episode ends with Sid hooking up with Michelle in his room  ("FINALLY"-No one) unaware, for a while, that Cassie is sitting there in the corner watching. Ugh, right?)
Now, sometimes a kind of adversarial relationship between creator and consumer can be fun and interesting (see Sopranos, The), and sometimes going too far to please your fans is a bad idea (see Harmon, Dan). So it’s not like there’s a hard and fast rule for this kind of thing. But this particular ending is just cheap and grabby. I thought I could hold Skins to higher standards.
(And what’s funny is that a move that was meant to cash in on my enthusiasm for Sid/Cassie instead neutralized it. I was irritated and bored and realized I didn’t really care what happened to them. So, good going, Skins! You’ve ruined something beautiful.)

Another reason ending the episode on another Sid/Cassie cliffhanger is lame is that the only thing this one really has going for it is a sustained mellow tone. It follows Michelle as she moves, with her mother, into a house with her new step-father. Michelle hates the house and hates the step-father. Then the guy’s (eerily affectionate) daughter shows up, and (surprise!) Michelle hates her too.
Her birthday is coming, and she wants to go camping. Nobody else really does, but they go anyway. Except Tony, who can’t pitch a tent. HEYYOOOOOOOO. But seriously folks: he can’t achieve an erection anymore! And suddenly the deep and abiding love Michelle feels for him is neither deep nor abiding. The Skins gang sets up shop on the beach, and then we’re mostly dealing with a lot of sun-drenched footage of sand, and water, and tides coming in.
Michelle’s problems aren’t very serious, and they particularly pale in comparison to what Sid is going though. It becomes clear almost immediately that Michelle’s new step-sister isn’t so bad, but it takes our heroine a long time to come around. The scale and scope of her problems aren’t much of an issue, however, as they seem commensurate with the scale and scope of the episode. This is supposed to be light and airy. A sorbet episode after the bottle episode. 
Anyway, Sketch turns up and seems sort of normal now. Then step-sister makes a play for Sid which only seems to depress him, and he wanders off. Michelle follows, and they end up having sex on a dune. How much do you know about sand dunes? I took a coastal morphology class in college (my friend Jill told me it would be easy and that there was a trip to Cape Cod at the end. She was right about the second part) and I feel like, for a while, I was kind of an expert. Now I couldn’t even tell you how they’re formed. I mean, wind, yeah, I know, but what else? Can you tell how much I don’t want to think about Sid and Michelle having sex?
Everybody goes home, and Sid and Michelle prepare to hook up again. And then the tense music starts playing, totally harshing our mellow. BOOM: Cassie. (“Whatever.”-Me) Sorbet doesn't work if you add a dramatic twist at the end, just like how metaphors don't work when you mix them. 

N.B. Yesterday I posted a little notice explaining the transition from this blog to Skins is going to finish here, but Blogging Game Of Thrones will be over there. So bookmark up!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Snow White Of The Ring: The Fellowship Of Snow White: A Review

I saw Snow White And The Huntsman last night, and today our esteemed colleagues at KStewartNews reported that the movie has already grossed $100 million worldwide, putting it on track to surpass Mirror Mirror's total in short order. So OK, I guess Kristen Stewart and her team won the War Of The Snow Whites. But at what cost? 

When Snow White And The Huntsman rocked Comic-Con's world last year, producers only had concept art and a cast on hand. Later, word was that the script was being re-written and revised even as production began. And guess what? It shows! ("'Only fools rush in' -wise men" -UB40) SWATH is somehow both over- and under-written, like they spent so much time on the outline they never got around to the script. When characters actually say things (which is rare!) their lines are too concise, too thematically self-evident. Like this movie was written in the way you'd compose a particularly artful tweet (Sample dialogue: "Have I not given you all?" "Have I not given all to you?").
Here's the story: Snow White is born, and so named because her mother was out walking in the snow one day and thought: "I'd like to get some dick." Also she cut herself on a rose, which is vaguely important. Then the mother dies, leaving Snow White's dad, the Burger King mascot, miserable. Then a dark army appears on the edge of town. If the battle scene that follows doesn't strike you as unnecessary, maybe you didn't hear Chris Hemsworth's voice over, which is something like "And then an army came or whatever, so they fought them for some reason." And so begins one of too many action scenes which basically consist of close, shaky-shots of stuff crashing into other stuff. (This a rare bird: an action movie where the quiet parts between action scenes are far more compelling than the fights.) The dark army (who are like, made out of shale) is keeping Charlize Theron "prisoner," and the Burger King "rescues" her, but actually it was all a ruse, which we know because again Chris Hemsworth says (essentially) "but it was a ruse!" The Burger King dies, Snow White gets locked in a tower, and Queen Charlize rules all, taking weird milk baths in front of her brother, Aryan McNulty, and otherwise sucking the beauty from everything around her (which is SORT OF a metaphor about female beauty when you think about it, or rather when you don't think about it too much--we'll get to that). "Anyway," narrator Chris Hemsworth says, "I'm going to bail on this voice-over part now, for the rest of the movie." Don't you LOVE when that happens?
One day, Queen Charlize's power starts to wane, and she finds out it's because Snow White just turned street legal and so the normal soul-sucking routine (you saw it in the trailer) won't keep her shit tight anymore (except it does, at intervals throughout the rest of the movie, but whatever, magic is complicated). And then we finally see K. Stew, imprisoned in the tower, mumbling prayers to herself and making weird dolls out of garbage. Interesting! Too bad none of that ever really comes up again!

Snow White manages to escape, Queen Charlize sends her brother out to find her with Irish Thor (Hemsworth) as a guide. Then Irish Thor (one of my favorite kinds of soap, obviously) goes rogue, and so begins he and Snow White's journey through about 90 minutes of really beautiful-looking nonsense. Shout out to the visuals in this movie: all of it is wonderful to look at, especially when it gets really trippy, which is not often enough! I include Kristen Stewart under this positive visual category: the movie luxuriates in her pale skin and (admittedly Smeagolesque) eyes.

(And if you were worried: her accent is fine. She mostly whispers, and her too-modern laugh and a few other non-affectations are problematic, but when she's speaking clearly there's nothing distracting about it. Except, of course, that the words out of her mouth are so silly; she has a rallying battle speech that literally sounds like free-associative poetry: "Fire will melt iron! But iron will first writhe around inside itself!" Are actual lines. "And so good! And also rocks! Which are mighty!")
But it's a problem when the visuals (excepting, again, most of the action) are the only thing you can really hang your (elfin) hat on, and even they become difficult to appreciate as the movie drags on and on and on and on. Snow and Hunt (new detective show on TNT this fall, obviously) hook up with the Seven Dwarves, because of course, and later she eats an apple, because of course, but those things are just there because they are, nothing really leading to them or coming from them. When you realize that everything is moving toward a final battle with the Queen you're not excited, you're exhausted. "Get it over with already!" you say. And then they do, and you're like, "Fine."

And then there's the way it seems like someone cut up a feminist textbook and scattered it all over this movie like fairy dust. Queen Charlize has an early speech about being put-upon by the men of this world. In a flashback, we learn that Charlize's mother cast a spell to make her youth and beauty into a weapon. Snow White (too briefly) visits a village of outcast women who have scarred themselves to make sure they won't be a threat to the Queen's beauty and power. Snow White frets about her ability to lead men. Later, when she suits up and goes to battle, The Huntsman tells her she looks good "in mail" (as in chainmail) which is a play on words (male/mail) Kanye West would find enthralling. Certain shots during the battle seem intended to maximize Stewart's androgyny. As short on thematic substance as this movie is, it's dense with feminist shrapnel. But I'd be hard pressed to make much sense of it all. Anybody got an interesting take?
In the end, SWATH was an OK movie. There's about an hour in the middle, where nobody's talking much and we seem to be tumbling through different fairy tale tropes, that is pretty interesting. But then it lands on aping Lord Of The Rings and sticks there. Oh well. I'm not upset I saw it, but in terms of movies I've seen in the theater this year it really only ranks above Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance. It's also, if you count repeat viewings, the fifth consecutive Chris Hemsworth movie I have seen in theaters (The Cabin In The Woods, The Cabin In The Woods, The Avengers, The Avengers, this). He's having a good year. I'm starting to feel like my prognostications for Kristen Stewart are off, though. The release of this movie has sparked a wave of K. Stew hatred the likes of which we haven't seen in years. And it's coming from semi-contrarian blogs like Videogum and Jezebel. If On The Road garners her any good will later this summer (fingers crossed), it will likely be dashed by Breaking Dawn pt. 2: Waiting For Aro in the fall. At least one person has Kristen Stewart's back, though: James Franco. "Kristen is a warrior queen," he says in his thoughtful, weirdly formal review for the Huffington Post. "Give her the crown." And when James Franco is on your side... uh, well, that could mean almost anything.

Monday, May 28, 2012

SKINS S2E3: Party On, Pain

I don’t know what kind of audience expectations Skins had when it first aired. It comes with this first-sentence Wikipedia vibe of like “the crazy party show with lots of kids fucking” which is weird because the kids almost never party and almost never fuck. Mostly, they undergo serious trauma. WOOOOO! YEAHHHH!

But that must have been the reputation Skins had, given the way it seems to so aggressively fight against it, week after week. This episode, for instance, traps us in Sid’s house for an extended period of time, following only the members of Sid's extended family, and when we finally do return to our old gang we’re seeing them dully, through the lens of Sid’s grief. (This show does a wonderful job of CONSTANTLY recalibrating your expectations and is a master class in tone.) And a party scene, featuring a cameo from a real band (Crystal Castles), which should be exactly the kind of scene you’d want were Skins the kind of show it is perceived to be, is not fun at all but actually where Sid finally breaks down, weeping hysterically in Tony’s arms while the incongruous music blares.
So yeah, this is a wonderful episode, the first one that I’ve found truly moving. We’re at Chez Sid for the first 30 minutes, without a break. His father’s father is visiting, and so Sid’s dad (Mark, played by Peter Capaldi) has convinced his estranged mother to return and pretend to be his wife for the sake of, well, not for the sake of pleasing his father; I guess for the sake of keeping the dude’s displeasure at a minimum. Because when you see what Sid’s family is like, you can really tell what an intergenerational victory Mark has scored by raising his son into a reasonably decent guy. There’s a bunch of animals—or, to paraphrase Mark: fucking Scottish cunts.

This is Capaldi’s show, and the actor weathers Mark’s victories and humiliations with a certain kind of gruff charm. The Sid/Mark relationship is one of the better son/father relationships I’ve seen, and it’s all the better for being articulated subtly. No Cat Stevens on the soundtrack here, in other words.

Sid is mostly a passive bystander to the drama between his elders, but also is fuming over the mistaken impression that Cassie’s cheating on him while away in Scotland. But all of that gets pushed aside when, the night after briefly reuniting with his wife and finally telling off his father, Mark dies.
Sid, alone in the house with his father's body, goes numb. He goes to class, doesn't talk to anyone, and barely notices that 1. someone has declared a fatwa on their college for their 9/11 play (ha ha ha) and 2. Angie has left the school, and Chris, for good. (More on all that later, maybe?) Tony finds Sid still sitting silently in the darkened classroom hours later, and takes him to a concert. Tony’s still in pretty bad shape physically and verbally (later there’s a wonderfully tension-breaking joke where Tony reacts to Mark’s dead body by saying “Ficking hell!” and Sid gently corrects him) but he seems to sense that everything is not all right with his friend. Sid wanders off in a daze, Tony finds him in the crowd, and Sid finally manages to tell someone what happened. And that’s where I totally lost it, you guys. It was an embarrassing show of human emotion and I am glad none of you were there to see it.

The coda to the episode is a goofy little O’Henry thing, where Sid and Cassie turn out to both be on trains going to see each other. I like that it pushes us even further afield from the dark, dusty house where we spent most of the episode—we’re there, we’re there, we’re there and then we slingshot away—but other than that it’s kind of silly. Unless we’re headed for a few episodes of “Sid’s adventures in Scotland!” That’d be OK. I <3 U, Sid.

So yeah, we're back to talking about Skins, okay? Did you guys watch this episode? What did you think?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Esquire's Profile Of Mireille Enos Is Some Next-Level Shit

Longtime readers of this blog are certainly aware that I hatelove Esquire Magazine's profiles of female celebrities. They're bizarre, pretentious, condescending, obsessive, and often go to such great lengths to avoid souding creepy that they become far creepier than one could have previously anticipated. Last summer I outlined the general formula for an Esquire Profile Of A Female, and when I did I conducted no research whatsoever, did not even go back and read a single old article, because I've read enough of these fucking things that I can create a reasonable facsimile in my sleep. And apparently, I am not alone in this skill. Last month Esquire's Tom Chiarella profiled The Killing's Mireille Enos, who basically wrote the (ridiculous) article herself. Let's start with the opening paragraph:

Her hair is loosely clipped in a chignon, that most delicate and mutable twist, so when she leans forward, when she lounges, when she reaches for an olive or fingers a pit from between her lips, placing the dead soldier on a paper napkin on the table between us, each time, Mireille Enos offers up a slightly different aspect of self.

So far, so Esquire-y. I swear to god those sentences are real and were really in a magazine. But hang on:

She purses her lips, then nods. "You've got to figure it out. I'm not saying anything about mystery, either. I'm just saying a woman should have to be considered from many angles."

So the author basically plaigarized the lede from his own subject--it isn't his observation, it's hers. About herself (This article doesn't cast a positive light on the writing at Esquire, but it doesn't exactly reflect well on Enos, either). From there, it hits all of the Esquire marks. Weird, incorrect but bold declarations about society ("Everyone's a Mormon these days"), references to her body veiled in descriptions of personality ("She's warming up out here on the patio, and it becomes clear that Mireille is a shin-bumping, knee-patting, olive-popping enthusiast"), pseudo-masculine biographical detail ("I'm a black belt in tae kwon do"). Then, as every celebrity profile draws to a close, there's the appraisal of career-state:

She is without complaint about her career, past, present, and future. But why would she protest? She locked up roles in major movies like World War Z  with Brad Pitt and The Gangster Squad* with Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone, both out in the next year.

[*Photographic memory types will remember, and those keeping track of the way everything on this blog connects Kevin-Bacon-like back to everything else will like to know, that Ashley Greene auditioned for The Gangster Squad last year.]

She looks straight at you when she's talking about movie projects. You can't see the bun, though the cheekbones and the slender neck are a separate pleasure. This look she gives must be to convey calm, the sense that she's willing to live with the vagaries of fame and to work in the movie business without falling to pieces, or blaming someone else.

I think they just put this paste this paragraph into every female profile, just subbing in the bun for whatever other non-tit body part they decide to obsess over. Earlobe, pinkie toe. At the end Enos mentions helping her father fix cars, mostly by handing him wrenches. That's another Esquire trademark--ALWAYS MENTION HER FATHER--the Freudian implications of which I do not care to unpack. But in this case it is also Enos assuming control over the article again. Her bun falls apart--how symbolic!--and she confidently begins to put it back together.

She turns her head then, and it is clear that the hair has all gone to hell and the chignon is wilting. "This I can fix for sure," she says, nodding at a bobby pin on the table. "Just keep handing me the wrenches, will you?"

With actresses like these, who needs writers? Chiarella tries to take control again, closing out with this line: "Pin in hand, she reaches back and starts to assemble a new angle." Nice try, buddy, but she wrote that one too! I don't feel like Esquire should be allowed to go on after this. The students have become the teacher.

Monday, April 30, 2012

SKINS S2E2: The Sense God Gave A Lemon

One thing Skins does very well, which I haven't noted before, is visual storytelling. That's hard to do--I mean not only is it conceptually difficult to tell a comprehensible story in images instead of words but it's also like, literally logistically hard to move the camera and lights around and show all the stuff you need to show. It's much easier to just have a guy say, "Oh, so Maxxie's stalker lives on THAT floor." And this episode of Skins is a particular standout in that regard--multiple scenes rely on understanding spatial relationships between characters,* and a huge amount of information is conveyed visually. You could almost watch this episode with the sound off.

(*And if you think that isn't hard to do, watch most TV shows while trying to understand where everyone really is in a room. They're not usually really showing you!)
Of course if you kept the sound off, you'd miss all the 9/11 jokes. This episode is centered around a production of Osama! The Musical, an original work being performed by the Skins Repertory Theatre. One walks a fine line when one attempts 9/11 jokes, and the easy and usually irritating way to get away with it seems to be the "look how transgressive I am being" Family Guy madlib approach "(Hey Stewie did you hear about how the Pope aborted a 9/11 terrorist at George Zimmerman's house?"). It's not as though jokes coming from that dark place can't be funny, but truth be told usually they aren't, and using them too often suggests something uncomfortable about the joke-teller. It's not unlike the trend/problem of "hipster racism" that's been in the news lately, mostly because of Girls. 

("Hipster racism" is one of those things I want to say more about, but sort of can't yet, as it mostly a "know it when I see it" situation. It's definitely real, I mean it is the most predictable outcome imaginable--relatively affluent white people appropriate aspects of an ethnic culture without becoming assimilated into the original culture and a reflexive reaction to that embarrassment follows--but most of the writing happening (that I have read, anyway) on the subject is muddled and usually half-about something else. This article on Gawker just seems to be about regular racism, and The Atlantic Wire's articles on the subject are mostly about Girls writer Lesley Arfin and her tweets, which seems like a misguided focal point, to me. More on this story as it develops, in my brain.)
What Skins does differently, or at least seems* to do differently, is come at 9/11 jokes from a goofily earnest place. Their deluded theater teacher thinks he is telling a stirring, noble story. So much of the transgression on Skins comes from an innocent place, right? Especially in the character of Chris, who continues to be the best (at least while Cassie is in absentia).

(*I mean, yeah, the jokes are still being written by knowing, cynical people, and if you think the cuddly rubes of the Skins cast DON'T shield this gag from scorn I suppose I can't blame you.)
ANYWAY this episode follows the exploits of the appropriately named Sketch (full name Sketchy Misery McSwimfan), a single white female living with her disabled mother and building a One Hour Photoesque shrine to Maxxie in her bedroom. We get a headfake toward pathos for Sketch when we first meet her, helping her mother in the bathroom (yikes). But it's short-lived sympathy; Sketch's opening salvo is attempting to murder Michelle. Then she gets a teacher fired for (not really) molesting her. And then she ties up her disabled mother and goes full Black Swan during the play, poisoning Michelle and seizing her role then surprising Maxxie and making an overture to him onstage. Finally, it all comes crashing down on her.
Elsewhere: Michelle is having feelings for Tony, Tony is still mostly a vegetable, and Chris and Anwar have suddenly developed a strange habit of trading Tarantinoesque one-liners about pop culture (Star Wars, Driving Miss Daisy, and the complete filmography of Hugh Grant). It's not entirely unwelcome, and it at least works during the (semi-inexplicable) costume party, but much like the 2006 dark comedy American Dreamz, it sorta came out nowhere. (See?)
True story: in high school band we performed a piece that was meant to evoke 9/11. All noble soaring melodies with just a hint of something sinister from the brass section, and then, no joke: a long trombone slide followed by a cymbal crash. I'm pretty sure I skipped out on the final performance of that piece, lying about a dead family member so I could go to a Rilo Kiley concert. Fair enough, right?