Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloweenie

Seeing as the 28th was coincidentally both the Friday before Halloween and my 24th birthday, my generous sister took her husband, friend, and yours truly to Jazzbones, a nifty little nightclub that had a wonderful band doing a tribute to Thriller, the lead singer dressed as Mario from the Mario Brothers.


So, of course, there were costumes.

Remember awhile back when I was all, I'm going as this guy/gal?


Well, here you are:

"Oh, miiighty warrior of great fighting stock! Might I enquire to ask, what's up, Doc?"

As my sister says, just replace the dingy couch with a fat white horse, and it'd be perfect. Sadly, I decided at the last minute it would probably be abusive to dye my morbidly obese dog white, so I had to just go with the couch here.

Unfortunately, I had no noble Siegfried/Elmer Fudd to be my date, but I made do anyways. Here are some more shots, because I know you're dying to get the whole effect. Note that as awesome as my companions' costumes were (Sister as Amber Dempsey, Bro-in-Law as Dr. Nick Riviera, and Friend as Awesome Dead Chick), I'm unsure how comfortable they'd be with me plastering their pictures all over my blog, so I'll just crop to show my cross-dressing wabbit self:




I was right all along. Me as a blonde? Pretty terrifying.

This trippy shot of me at JB was taken after I inbibed in a little too much giggle juice, and decided it would be super sexy and Gildaish to pull off my Bugs glove with my teeth and hold it saucily over my head. Total win, right?

"Gahhhhh I'm a shuu...shu...shupershtarrrr!!!11!"

Sorry for the graininess and bluriness in a few of the pics, I hope that doesn't ruin your Halloween in any way, shape, or form. The costume components, so you can know for your own future Bugs/Brunhilde ensemble, are as follows: long gray/brown t-shirt, pink miniskirt, spangly gold bikini to serve as one's armor, pink eyeshadow, bunny slippers (that look like actual bunny feet), long, braidable blonde wig, viking helmet, and a kind father willing to make cardboard orange wings for you. Duct tape is also key. And at the end of the night? Nobody born after 1957 or who isn't a cartoon geek will know who the hell you are. And isn't that what Halloween is all about?

"Oh, Bwunhilde, you'we so wuvwey."
"Yes, I know it. I can't help it."

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Happy Last Day of October, starshines.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Re-Reading Dracula: Was Mina Murray Harker Always This Kickass?

 



Because I don't remember being as impressed by her in middle school, the first time I read Dracula. 

It's not that her character isn't problematic. She is, certainly. Mina is obviously a literary example of "The Cult of Domesticity," a campaign started by Queen Vee herself to make women feel special and empowered that they were so able to be protected and sheltered by the menfolk, while still finding time to do the darning. In the early sections with Lucy, Mina makes snide little remarks about the New Woman.

Some of the "New Women" writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the "New Woman" won't condescend in future to accept. She will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it too!
The copy I picked up at the library is apparently from the Young Adult section, and has some "Questions for Discussion" in the back. One of them is "How are Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra similar? How are they different? Can you see how they are friends? Do you relate to either one of them?"

Well, let's break this down. How are they similar? Well, in their sections together at least, they are the same character--virtuous, noble, beautiful, well-mannered, beloved, proper. How are they different? Lucy's rich, Mina's middle-class. Lucy doesn't work, Mina's a schoolteacher, thus she's probably a bit more educated. Oh, and Lucy sleepwalks.

All these are characteristics that differ only in the sense a brunette is different from a blonde; all surface.

So can I see how they are friends? Obviously, yes. They're the same person, after all. Do I relate to either of them? At this stage in the story, not very.

It's a sad, sorry road to go down to tear down female representations in this book; let's face it, save for Van Helsing, the male characters are all the same, too. Yes, even Quincey Morris, for all his American slang, is just like the others: virtuous, noble, brave. No one has a temper. No one cracks silly jokes. But you're missing the point attacking the story on this level, since it's all part of the allegory jazz Stoker was going for: virtue, though maybe not as exotic or enticing as the evil Dracula represents, wins every time and should win. Whether or not that makes you barf, it's how most stories end, even if they're not as black and white about it as Stoker.

Yet somehow, once Lucy dies and the characters team up to hunt down Count D, Mina is able to break through her revered angel role to take action that most heroines of her ilk would swoon at. She's still nauseatingly revered, but at least she earns it big-time. More than anything, she slowly reveals some god-damn depth.

Mina is incredibly intelligent and crafty. Who comes up with the idea to hypnotize her once Dracula does that voodoo he does so well on her, the hypnotic sessions thus enabling everyone to know where he's headed? Not Van Helsing. She does. She takes that very trauma and victimization Dracula wielded on her and turns the tables on him. That's frankly badass.

And who knows the train schedules by heart, so they can beat Dracula to his final destination? Mina. Yeah, she memorized it originally so she could faithfully trail her man, but she uses that knowledge for a higher purpose once the fight commences. Who organizes all the notes and transcribes everything into one fluid report? Muh-Muh-Mina. And who joins the gang in toting a gun and pointing it at the Count's purveyors at the end, standing in the bitter cold, Dracula's mark on her forehead? Wilhelmina.

That's all pretty revolutionary for a female character in 1897. So what happened to her character once women's rights got more into gear in the 20th and 21st century? No guns, no organizing search parties. She becomes instead Dracula's romantic interest, his mistress. What the hell?

Dammit, Coppola! And everyone else!

Frankly, I'd rather see her priggish and uptight, and remain that way. That may play right into her role as the Angel of the House, but at least she doesn't also become Angel of the House and Poster Child for Undead Erotica. In other words, modern interpretations such as Coppola's make her a victim not only of Dracula, but of the Madonna/Whore complex. This isn't sexual liberation here, since many times she's still hypnotized and manipulated by Dracula's power.

Stoker's Mina is far more effective, because she shows sympathy for Dracula without lusting for him. After displaying her wicked intelligence and hot secretarial skills, she then turns around and makes what I find a genuinely moving speech to the men, regardless of the Little Eva Syndrome that surrounds her character.

I know that you must fight. That you must destroy even as you destroyed the false Lucy so that the true Lucy might live hereafter. But it is not a work of hate. That poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of all. Just think what will be his joy when he, too, is destroyed in his worser part that his better part may have spiritual immortality. You must be pitiful to him, too, though it may not hold your hands from his destruction.
And at the bloody end, as she's poised with gun pointed at the gypsies, as she watches her husband brutally destroy Dracula:

I shall be glad as long as I live that even in that moment of final dissolution, there was in [Dracula's] face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there before.

To me, that impartial empathy for the Count speaks worlds more about her character, and makes her far more endearing, than any romance with him would have. And believe me, this is coming from someone who usually eats shit like that up. Yet this empathy never weakens her resolve, either.

Just as much as the shotgun and the leadership skills, I think her ability to understand there's a trapped soul within Dracula is Mina's most shocking and refreshing trait in this genre. Someone as deliberately malicious as Dracula is not supposed to earn any sympathy--not from a late Victorian audience, and certainly not from the leading lady. A well-meaning Quasimodo, yes; not a lecherous Claude Frollo. As for contemporary audiences, we've disappointedly proven that though we're more accepting of that kind of sympathy now, the lady can only feel it if she's also sexually attracted to the villain in question.

Mina's not a perfect representation of a female with stamina and brains, not by a long-shot. She still considers herself subservient to the strong menfolk for defending her, and her everyday interactions aren't what you'd call dynamic. But frankly--and hopefully this isn't equatable to turning a blind eye to racism in early Hollywood--she's the best you could ask for at the turn of the twentieth century, so far as literature of this type goes (remember, even the feminist Ann Veronica of H.G. Wells' book by the same name isn't all that much better).

So, graphic novelphiles, should I read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? I love the idea of Mina leading the League, especially if it's mostly by her wits instead of any superpower. However, I find it too much an easy way out having Jonathan dump her and all that; in the original novel, he's completely devoted to her. Still, props to Alan Moore for recognizing Mina's potential. Plus, y'know, Invisible Man and Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde. That's cool, right?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Bride, 1985

We all know what major holiday is coming up in a few days, don't we? That's right, New Zealand's Labor Day!! So I encourage everyone to cuddle up on the 24th and watch both seasons of Flight of the Conchords in celebration.

Aside from that, Halloween's also almost here, so here's a review of The Bride, starring Sting and Jennifer Beals.



Given my profile picture and the fact I've written about it a few times, you probably won't have a difficult time inferring that I really, really like 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein. I was young when I first saw it, I'm guessing around the time I entered middle school, if not a little before. Like any wistful kid not paying attention in math, I'd concoct all sorts of kickass sequels in my mind, where the Bride isn't actually dead, and would win moodily handsome Colin Clive's heart away from stuffy old Elizabeth, after Eliza Doolittle sessions where Bridie learns the ways of civilization, only to conquer the sexist mores of the day, and whatnot. Oh, and she'd stick it to the Monster for trying to kill her, but not be too mean to him, since, hey, he's the Monster and everyone loves the Monster.

Sadly, this Sting-starring version takes my muddled sixth grade delusions of feminist grandeur and actually makes a pretty weak movie out of them.

The Bride's billed as a "remake" of the 1935 movie, but really it is a sequel, following what would happen if Frankenstein had escaped with his female creation, and if the Monster had escaped, too (unbeknownst to Frankenstein or anyone else). A promising premise, but totally ruined by the script and the performances. Sting's fairly monotone, and although it's nice to see a shout-out to Peter Cushing's evil, randy take on the character, Sting's final attack on Eva (what he so deems Jennifer Beals' Bride) smacks of a bodice-ripper, harlequin romance mentality that annoys rather than scares. 

Jennifer Beals, though quite beautiful, with about the most stunning dark peepers I ever did see, isn't what you'd call a master thespian, either. With Women's Lit heavy lines like, "You didn't create me! You didn't create me!" and "Not even if you murder me and raise me up a thousand times, you cannot have me," she comes across whiny and petulant rather that strong and mature. The movie begins with her creation (with wasted cameos from Quentin Crisp as a Praetorius figure and Timothy Spall as a Dwight Frye-esque assistant), and these scenes sadly have Beals' best moments when she first wakes up, disoriented and confused.


Luckily she doesn't try imitating Elsa Lanchester's chilling and superb sharp, birdlike gestures and expressions. Instead, Beals is softer, more tenderly afraid, and you really get a sense of her vulnerability as those big sad eyes take in lightning for the first time and the strange people around her. She's touching where Lanchester was stylish and memorable, and while Lanchester's performance is certainly better for a horror/camp film, and thus I like it better, Beals still does well here. However, there are more than enough cringe-worthy moments for both she and Sting to prove their amateurish acting chops, such as the memorably awful "I eat chicken!" scene where Frankenstein teaches Eva how to talk. 

Fortunately and unfortunately, whatever ham-handed feminist message could have been derived is pushed to the sidelines for the part the movie really cares about: the friendship between the Monster (played by Clancy Brown, called "Viktor" in the movie, just like the original Frankenstein of the novel--whatever symbolism that has is beyond my patience to figure out) and the dwarf he saves from a crowd of bullying children, Rinaldo (David Rappaport). The two team up and become a success as a trapeze act in a traveling circus (??).



Rappaport is a charming actor, and these scenes aren't poorly done, but the tone is totally off from what you'd want in a Frankenstein movie, no matter how "peace, love, and understanding" the message is. For one thing: too cutesy. For another, they take the whole "Monster is just a misunderstood gentle giant" trope way, way too far. This only works if there's something about the Monster in his carriage and looks that are genuinely menacing and unique; that way, the contrast between his outward appearance of monstrous power and his inner character of childlike naivete is more surprising and poignant.

Brown, however, does not look threatening in the least, just like a big, tall, lumbering dude, so his scenes with Rinaldo have more of a Lenny and George vibe than something out of a horror film. That very well could have been the filmmaker's intention, but it just doesn't work. For one thing, it's insulting to people with real disabilities. The director basically explains away the Monster--the Frankenstein Monster, mind you-- as a developmentally slow individual, so the secret message is, "and that's why he's so scary. But just look deep down inside, and he's a real cuddle-bug, totally non-threatening and dog-like! Look, it's so touchingly amusing he cares so much about Rinaldo that he's cast in their circus routine as the mother to Rinaldo's baby!" True, the scenes in the circus aren't supposed to be PC, as we're supposed to feel superior to the gawking crowd. However, at the same time we're expected to laugh right along with that  audience at the hi-jinx of the crafty Rinaldo and the infantilized Viktor, and at what strange companions they make. Icky.

Plus, the rough street life Viktor leads and his affection for Rinaldo make Eva's plight pretty paltry in comparison. After all, she's pretty, intelligent, and rich under the guidance of Frankenstein, a well-to-do Victorian/1700s (who knows) girl who feels vaguely stifled by a patriarchal society. That isn't nearly as sympathetic as a reviled, gentle, slow man trying to make ends meet with his equally reviled and gentle (though lovably sassy!) companion in a circus (where Rinaldo meets a sad fate for ridiculously non-sensical reasons.)

And like Viktor, Eva's character is muted, watered down from an unearthly creation to that aforementioned stifled, intelligent, Victorian lady stereotype. There are admittedly a few nice call-backs to her beginnings as a creature with primitive instincts; at her first party, she growls and roars in terror at a cat, telling Frankenstein later, "You never told me about cats! I thought it was a tiny lion." That's probably the best line.

Viktor and Rinaldo's scenes might have passed for an after school special about understanding people who are different, so I found myself much preferring the comparatively few scenes about the titular bride, shoddy as they may be. They're the only ones that try for that old-school horror feel, even if they're not expertly done outside some good eerie lighting; lightning storms and Sting staring blankly--er, intensely--at his obsession Eva while she sleeps replace an honest building of mood and suspense. Still, at least they're trying for something similar to the original franchise's ambience; Rinaldo and Viktor's scenes are condescending and trite without any bite. 



The rest of the cast is wasted, too. Cary Elwes is markedly uncharming (poor Westley!) as a cocky suitor of Eva's, and Geraldine Page of all awesome people has a bit part as Frankenstein's housekeeper. And why kill off Quentin Crisp? Just so Frankenstein could be alone in his secret? That's not a wholly bad idea, actually. But then there's the inexplicable weird presence of Frankenstein's one friend Clerval (Anthony Higgins), who only serves as exposition for the audience, as Sting murmurs uninterested mad scientist-babble to him about his plans for Eva. Turns out this Frankenstein's not quite as cold-hearted and evil as Curshing's Dr. F, since this one begins with the noble, if not paradoxical, intention of creating a woman with a will and intellect as free-spirited and equal to any man's of that period.

So at what point does he start to lust over Eva and become possessive of her instead? Because it seems like the majority of screentime is spent on Viktor and Rinaldo, we never have enough character development in the Bride scenes, so we never understand Frankenstein's mood swings and violent actions. Perhaps it's because Rappaport is such a natural, warm actor that director Franc Roddam shifted more focus on him once he realized how dull Sting and Beals were. However, that only works to weaken the premise, since the movie is still called The Bride, not Viktor and Rinaldo's Feel-Good Self-Esteem Power Hour.

The ending is rushed and confused, with a sappy montage running over the credits. Rinaldo's image is superimposed over the screen, as his voice-over repeats his words from earlier in the film, reminding us that dreams are worth pursuing. Garrrgrrrrh. 

The movie's watchable, if for nothing more than the typical mid-'80s costumes and make-up; check out Eva's ballgown and perm. But it's not much else. Outside of Rappaport, no performance has any--no, I refuse to say "sting". Uhhhh...spark! No spark, so theres's nothing to lift the limp script into high camp. Everything's too sedate and gentle, when even the gawky sixth grader in me knows that's wrong. The Bride and the Monster deserve a tale much more exciting and gruesome than "safe". 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Top 10 30 Rock Episodes, ranked in order of appearance because I can't decide which ones are better than others


Ho, hum. Another Thursday, another night without 30 Rock. All because someone (Tina Fey) is apparently more responsible and caring than her TV counterpart, and would rather look after her relatively newborn baby. And they say children are our future. A future without Liz Lemon sleep eating cigarettes is no future I want to be a part of.


Anyways, here's my list of my completely subjective top ten 30 Rock episodes, to tide we viewers over until the real thing comes back...IN FLIPPING JANUARY. WHYYY?

1. "Tracy Does Conan," S1E7



30 Rock had the whole hilariously offbeat thang going from the start, but its manic, hysterical edge gelled for the first time in this episode. Tracy does Conan, but first has to come down from "bugging out" on pills prescribed for him by one Dr. Leo Spaceman. Yes, this episode definitely would have garnered a place on the list by one fact alone: Dr. Spaceman's first episode.

"My, I'm certainly opening up to you, young lady!"

But the rest of the episode more than earns its place here, too. Tracy's antics reach comic heights of heaven, the best moment a relatively quiet one in this farce: Grizz gently rocks a shirtless Tracy back and forth in his arms as Liz talks on the phone with the deliciously smarmy and snake-oily Spaceman.

Scratch that, here's the best moment:



Conan is a great actor in this, by the way, very natural. I love the quick interplay between him and Liz, calling back to a few episodes previous where Liz implied a past romance between them. "Let's not do this, Elizabeth." And the ending is a classic, too, when Tracy's finally pushed onstage to tape the show. "Pants on! Pants on!" It really subverts the old comic trope that, hey, everything will work out in the end. Pff, who do you think Liz is, Gidget?

"AAAGH! Past Pete has come to kill Future Pete!"

2. "Episode 210," S2E10


Sometimes one scene is enough to earn an episode a place of honor on some creepy fanatical blog list. Here we have two scenes, each Liz-centric. First, her review with the co-op board, where she's bucking for her dream studio. It plays as a blind date from hell, with Liz dooming herself with each awkward word she says and with each questionable moment from her credit history revealed, until the board members can only stare at her in shock and pity.

"I love your apartment. Love!"
"Umm...there's...something coming out of your nose."

Then, continuing the date motif, you have a dejected Liz in her apartment at night, calling and leaving messages for the board over and over again with increasing pathetic loathing, and increasing drunkenness.

"I'm fine, because I know who I am. I feel sorry for you, co-op board."

We also have Kenneth's addiction to coffee. At first it didn't work for me. "Hopped up Kenneth" doesn't turn out as funny as everyday cheerful immortal Kenneth, but it soon evolved into the wonderfully weird "Midnight Train to Georgia" musical number. Who doesn't want to hear Edie Falco harmonize with Alec Baldwin?

"And I don't know why I lied, I guess I'm just nervous. But no, I did not read The Lovely Bones."


3. "MILF Island," S2E11



There's such a wonderful 12 Angry Men vibe in this episode, with all the writers sweating and cramped in Jack's waiting room, turning suspicious about who insulted Jack to a tabloid writer. None is more on the witch hunt than righteous Liz Lemon, until we find out....



I think "MILF" is also a  good showcase for just how stone-cold bitchy Liz is when cornered. Like when Kenneth takes the fall:

"What do you have to say to Kenneth, Lemon?"
"...You disgust me."

4. "Succession," S2E13


"Succession" has to be one of the most beautifully structured episodes in the history of ever. First, there's the underlying Amadeus theme--who else but the good folks at 30 Rock would think to link the searing, jealous complexity of Salieri and Mozart with Tracy's genius for creating porn video games, and Frank seething that Tracy was able to surmount the uncanny valley paradox?

Then you have appearances from Rip Torn, Will Arnett, and Dr. Spaceman's greatest entrance ever, as seen in the picture above: gratuitous cloak billowing behind him while Mozart swells in the background, as he stops at the candy machine. One of his best lines, too, when Torn fails to revive:

"Hello, 911? Diabetes repair, I guess." Shrug.

And then here's Liz, falling sway to the possiblity of CEO-dom, going, "Hey, nerds. Guess who has two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn't cried once today? This moi."

5. "Sandwich Day," S2E14



The best scenes are again Liz-centric.



And we mustn't forget the climactic scene at the airport, where her desire to make things right with Floyd conflicts with her desire to not abandon the delicious teamster's sandwich Jenna, Kenneth, Frank, Tracy, and Lutz won for her in a hilariously depraved drinking contest. I'd post the video of Liz's ultimate decision, but it's better seen with the whole episode's events behind it...and I can't find it on YouTube.

"I can do it! I can have it all!"

6. "Believe in the Stars," S3E2


Oprah in one of the best celebrity TV guest stints ever, mostly due to how a drugged up Liz reacts to her ("I'ma call you back. I'm snitting nexta Borpo"), and Liz's horrified realization at the end about who this Oprah really was. Fey talked about working with Oprah in her autobiography Bossy Pants (hilarious, go get it). This was around the time of the big Fey-as-Palin boom, where she was running back and forth to SNL's set and 30 Rock's fake airplane set, all the while planning her daughter's birthday party. Oprah--Oprah, mind you--was all, "Really? You're doing all that?" If the episode hadn't aired two seasons earlier, I'd have pegged the hectic pace of Tracy Does Conan deriving inspiration from the backstage shenanigans Fey experienced here.

Speaking of Tracy, this episode has possibly the best Tracy-Jenna subplot yet: their horrifyingly un-PC decision to masquerade as the other's race and gender.

"God, this is worse than the time you wore shorts to work!"

7. "Gavin Volure," S3E4


This episode doesn't get as much attention as it deserves, what with Steve Martin in an appearance to rival--possibly surpass--Oprah's. Martin brings his A-game to the corrupt fake agoraphobe of the title, returning to his roots as a gigantically spaced-out, pompous asshole. No Father of the Bride, Cheaper By the Dozen crapola here. His climactic scene is one of the best of the series:

"I've lost everything! I've lost my money! I've lost Liz! That...paint is drying weird!"
"Gavin Volure! Everyone wanted to be Gavin Volure! Well, Gavin Volure is going to juuuump!"

Tracy again gets another great subplot, a happily unsentimental journey through his paranoia that his young sons are going to kill him for his vast wealth.

"Daddy's home! Don't Menendez me!"
"And I want you to know, that if anything ever happens to me, you and your brother are going to jail."

8. "Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001," S4E7


If forced at gunpoint to decide which episode I'd put in the number one slot based on my preference alone, I'd first stand agog at just how far blog-followers are willing to go for an accurate idea of the blogger's taste, and then I'd choose this episode.

There's plenty of brilliance here (Will Arnett returns! Dr. Spaceman!), but again, it boils down to a key scene: Liz, after having her confidence burst into itty-bitty bits by a nervous, competitive Jack, tries to shoot the promos for her upcoming talk show. It goes disastrously, with Pete desperately throwing suggestions at her that she then turns into grotesque charades of human movements, like a malfunctioning sassy robot.

"Wave your hand! Wave like a human being!"
"Blow us a kiss! With your hand!"
"Give us some cleavage. No, no. Never mind." The way Scott Adsit and Alec Baldwin move back at the same time here is ingenious timing. Has there ever been a more courageous comedienne than Tina Fey, willing to let men react to her that way?

Oh, man, and then there's Liz standing behind the HD camera. Yup, no other braver comedienne. Same with Adsit, Baldwin, and McBrayer--or should I say, shirtless old man, young Alec Baldwin, and muppet?

That whole scene made me laugh harder than I think I ever have at any time, maybe tied only with Allie Brosh's Cake post at Hyperbole and a Half.

Gollum, mouth-crying Liz Lemon is pretty swell, too. Almost made me think twice about getting surgery on my own eyes.



9. "Verna," S4E12


I hate to keep going for episodes where it's just the one scene that sticks out, but come on. Any moment where Liz thinks she is triumphant and then has her dreams quickly deflated is a golden moment. She and Frank, temporary roomies, have sworn to kick their vices: Frank his cigarettes, Liz her junk food. Although Liz has been suffering, Frank seems easygoing as always, and so Liz leaves out his old carton of cigarettes and sets up a camera during the night. Noticing that two cigarettes are missing, Liz brings in the tape to show all the writers, little realizing she suffers from a "little understood parasomnia disorder."

(Pssst, over here at Hulu: http://www.hulu.com/watch/125953/30-rock-jaccuse)

Jan Hooks does a wonderful, uncomfortably raunchy job as the titular Verna, Jenna's trashy mother, but really, can anything or anyone in an episode top a Lemon-Amorous Mail Lady duet of "Don't Go To Bed With a Frown in Your Pocket?"

Oh, and my new personal slogan: "You didn't believe in me. But I believed in myself. Just like the last scene of all movies."

10. "Queen of Jordan," S5E17


I've never seen a more apt send-up of anything--including politics, romances, war dramas--than 30 Rock's go at reality television here. Filmed as an episode of Angie Jordan's reality show Queen of Jordan, they get all the cliches, while still staying true--somehow--to 30 Rock's tone. I attribute this to the actors, who by now are so comfortable with their characters they seem, well, just like themselves even when the structure, music, and direction is totally different.

And I love that the writer (billed as "Tracey Wigfield" in quotes) remembers the insane details Angie outlined in "Mrs. Donaghy" quite a few epsiodes back when the concept for Queen of Jordan was born, featuring white divorced lady (Randi), Angie's meth addicted nephew, and of course, D'Fwan.

"....D'Fwan forgot his catchphrase."

Baldwin also has some of his finest moments, as he more and more deeply publicly humiliates himself with a series of accidents and mis-quotes.

"That was the chair, because I only pass gas once a year for an hour atop a mountain in Switzerland."

I also get a kick out of Liz getting billed as "Another Person." And Pete? "Powerless, bald."

*******

So, there they are. You're welcome. Which ones was I a fool, a heartless fool, to leave out? There are so, so many.

"I'm a star, I'm on top, somebody bring me some haaaaaam!"

(By the way, you should probably strike while the internet is hot on the Youtube and Hulu clips. We all know how eager both sites are to take stuff down that people like).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Myra and Kitty in Waterloo Bridge, 1940



*Minor Spoilers*

I'd been fiddling with the idea of entering a post in the Dueling Divas Marathon I saw advertised on Rachel's page at Girl with the White Parasol, and I might still do that. However, when I tried thinking of famous catty broads, my treacherous brain kept thinking of great female friendships instead (I was going to put "great film female friendships," but who wants to encounter that much alliteration this time in the evening, or whenever you're reading this?). Well, I thought of one friendship in particular, at any rate--that of ballerinas turned fallen women Kitty and Myra in 1940's Waterloo Bridge, as portrayed by Virginia Field and Vivien Leigh, respectively.

This film is the Gone with the Wind of China, apparently, with subtitled versions used in universities for students studying English. As for contemporary America, this movie certainly isn't as well known as Casablanca or any of the other great wartime tear-jerkers. Part of that could be Robert Taylor as male lead Roy Cronin; though he does a competent, charming job as the Scottish (?) Captain who wins Myra's heart, maybe he's too charming, too nice, too perfect, too much the distant, idealized, do-nothing hero, with no enticing conflict to generate as much interest as, say, moody and cynical Rick Blaine.

Plus, let's face it, the plot is Camille'd in a big way, more sentimentalized than the grittier 1931 version directed by James Whale. Sweet, innocent ballerina+Presumed dead fiance=A LIFE OF SHAME ON THE STREETS IF YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYIN'. But then, oh then, she finds out her presumption was maybe premature....

The movie is emotionally manipulative, and after awhile you want to shoot poor, harmless Tchaikovsky for ever having written Swan Lake, or the producers for thinking "Auld Lang Syne" wouldn't make a monotonous love score, given the way both tunes are used ad nauseam whenever Leigh gets misty.

Yet somehow the movie works, and is legitimately touching for all its manufactured syrup. Part of that may be due to the fantastic cinematography, and Mervyn LeRoy's comparatively quiet directing and the screenplay that doesn't hit you over the head with any sugary sweetness, and has some surprisingly sharp lines. Plus, you've got imperious coldness in the form of Maria Ouspenskaya as brittle ballet mistress Madame Kirowa, blustering stuffiness with C. Aubrey Smith as the duke, and Lucile Watson as a multi-layered Lady Margaret Cronin, the protective mother of Taylor.

But mostly, I think the movie works based on the sincere performances of Leigh and Field, and the friendship their two characters share.


This was purportedly Leigh's favorite film, and it's certainly her most sensitive, realized performance outside of Blanche. Myra is more grounded in reality than any character she's ever played, even with the stereotypical weepy-sad-prostitute shit she has to muck through. Coming right after Scarlett, a performance that you could argue bordered on the broad for all its immense awesomeness (which rightly fit the source material), Myra was truly the window into just what Leigh could do with a role--inhabit it completely. Was there ever an actress with a more expressive face? A face that could pull you into what she was feeling with a minimum of any actual facial contortions? There was an undeniable energy radiating from her face, that shone through even when perfectly still, filling you with what she felt.


Myra is a character that so easily could have been saucer-eyed and sticky, were it not for Leigh's ability to truly humanize her. Myra is totally affectless, completely guileless, and thus we more than just stomach her. We love her.


Then there's Virginia Field. Dear, undeservedly forgotten Virginia Field. This blonde stunner was just as tart and breezy and likable as Ginger, Una, and Blondell, with a saucy cockney twist and legs that went on forever. Yet she's able to get at deeper, more emotional places, that might have made you cringe if you saw one of those aforementioned ballsy dames try for them. Her Kitty is someone you'd want in your corner. Kitty is a former showgirl who finds herself in an uptight ballet company due to the war (another example of Hollywood's skewered take on reality--so a showgirl can pass herself off as a ballerina, eh? And getting into a ballet company is a last resort choice for her?). This cocky, streetwise dame, despite all logical odds, becomes inseparable pals with the shy, virginal Myra. And she'd do anything for Myra, anything: pretend a note sent to Myra that disrupts Madame's lecture is actually for her, then get fired for standing up for Myra, and ultimately, become a prostitute in order to support the ailing Myra, stricken after reading that Roy's been killed overseas.

Is Kitty almost too much the idealized friend, as Roy is the idealized man? If so, we don't notice it as much or feel half as manipulated, since Field as Kitty is so brass and raw that she doesn't come off as a caricature of maternal, wisecracking camaraderie, but instead she's the real thing. Of course, sadly, she's unable to shield Myra from her way of living for long.

Waterloo Bridge is undeniably packaged as a sweeping romance, from its swelling score and candlelight, to its distraught, separated lovers. Myra and Roy's relationship is indeed effective. Leigh and Taylor do have lovely chemistry together, for all his shiny over-perfection. But nothing beats the sister-chemistry between timid Myra and boisterous Kitty, and theirs are the most electric scenes. Kitty undeniably gets the best lines, and delivers them with zip. The energy rises whenever she's onscreen. And Myra is so touchingly charming that we want her to have a defender like Kitty; honestly, Roy is steeped way too much in his fantasy land of invincible happiness that we wonder how anything not rose-colored could ever get through to him.

Sandwiched into this tragic love story and war drama is a buddy picture. Without it, maybe we would have thrown up our hands in disgust at the swoony couple and hokey, tired plotline; as it is, Kitty and Myra's struggles and courage remind us that hard things happen to real friends, too, not just film lovers.

Instead of ending on the film's sad note, let's go with Myra and Kitty at their happiest, earlier in the movie. Here's my favorite scene, both for the movie and for showcasing Myra and Kitty's friendship. Roy has reappeared after Myra thought he'd gone back to war, and she sees him through the window. Myra was never giddier, and Kitty never more excited for and amused by her pal, as she helps her get ready to meet him.

Scene starts at 10:00--



Were it not for the Hayes policy that fallen women must fall all the way down flat on their faces no matter how pure at heart, how delightful would a Myra & Kitty Wartime Fun Hour serial have been? What's that? Now I'm the hokey one? Rude.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dark Shadows Obsessors Time! Reboot Sketches By George Caltsoudas

Browsing deviantart, as one does, I happily stumbled across artist George Caltsoudas’ beautiful, stylized re-imaginings for a dream project “first chapter comic adaptation of 1960s TV Series, Dark Shadows.”


I was hooked even before reading that.

I thought other DS fans, and fans of richly detailed ‘60s/Old School Gothic d├ęcor in general, should find his designs and sketches of much interest. His look has a Tim Burton-y feel, but with an haute couture, retro sensibility all his own, that makes his work more original and evocative of the past than what I’ve seen from Burton lately (y’know, spirals and stripes. I still consider myself a Burton fan, but c'mon!).

And even though Caltsoudas' style is distinctly his own, he obviously has the Dark Shadows feel down pat; he sprinkles throughout some of the flubs from the series, and heightens the “Greek tragedy” aura of the Collins’ mythos. His Barnabas is a smooth combination of Frid and Depp, without detracting from either actor. Yet he doesn’t pull away from bringing in dazzling new additions of his own, such as my beloved, awful Buzz getting an extended role in this reboot, and Angelique/Cassandra coming into events in an even more ghoulish, disturbing way (because of Buzz). (Hee, Buzz!). Really makes me wish this was going into the movie!

Oh, and further bonus for a wee little vintage freak like me? He lists one Elena Nathanail as inspiration for his Victoria’s look. I’d never heard of Miss Nathanail before, but I looked her up, and I like her style! I’d also never heard of 1969 sister act Wendy and Bonnie either, which he says is the soundtrack he hears when he thinks of Victoria. And after I listened to their album Genesis on YouTube? Uh, yeah. Completely. I'm in love. Frankly, I’ve decided Danny Elfman should incorporate bits and pieces of their songs whenever Victoria shows up in the new movie.

Anywho, glorious work, Mr. Caltsoudas! Do let us know whenever you add anything more to your portfolio! Fellow Dark Shadows creeps, be sure to check out his gallery!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hopefully Brief Writer's Block Ahoy!

Even though I have more free time on my hands than in the past few weeks, I find myself suffering from a wee bit of writer's block (hence my witty title). I've got a few ideas for blog posts, but nothing yet has gripped me in its iron claws of...writing...good...things...for the internet.

But until I get back into the swing of things, here's a frightening peek into my hope chest of terror:

What if, say, Marilyn Monroe had survived into the early to mid-'80s? You know what could have happened? A Tim Burton/Brian de Palma/Dario Argento/Whoever Weird-directed remake of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, co-starring a wheelechair-bound Audrey Hepburn.

Now that I've thrown that into your lives, you can't stop thinking about it, can you?

You're welcome.


(What should I write about?)

Here's the basis for my Halloween costume, at any rate. So far I've spent waaaaay more money than I logically should have on the costume components, considering my sickly, gasping-for-breath-like-a-flailing-fish bank account:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Elke Sommer: Another in the long line of '60s blondes I pretended to be when I was little and even now a little bit


Actor, singer, dancer, and painter Elke Sommer bewitched my idolization-prone brain at an early age, when I first saw 1964's A Shot in the Dark on VHS. Yup, that far back, har dee har, VHS's are lame and obsolete.

In this superior sequel to the immensely popular Pink Panther from a year before, Sommer was not only drop dead gorgeous, but she also got the joke of her wide-eyed, damsel-in-distress character, making her an endearing parody without mocking. Despite her ingenue status, her wrongly accused Maria is obviously more together than Sellers' Daffy Duck meets Pepe Le Pew Inspector Clouseau, yet she never acts exasperated or jaded when in the company of her clumsy protector.

This may sound heretical, but I think Sommers both prettier and more charming than, say, Brigitte Bardot or Britt Ekland. She has the kittenish poutiness that made Bardot famous, along with the Germanic appeal and shizamwowza bod of Ekland, yet in either less generic extremes or with softer charm. Or, frankly, I'm just forever beguiled by her dainty Maria, as we tend to immortalize the favorites from our youth.

You know what you guys really want? Another kitchy video, of Sommer showing off what I assume are her own pipes in this cheese-tastic, groovylacious song "Oh I Love You" from 1965. The title's the only English part. I wish I looked this tantalizing in emerald green.




The related videos look...disturbing at best. Stop tainting the goofy but clean childhood memories I have associated with this nice lady, internet!