Molly Ringwald’s New Yorker Piece on John Hughes is Right, and Here’s Why

Recently, Molly Ringwald, a member of the popular 1980s “Brat Pack” group of young actors, wrote a piece for The New Yorker where she analyzed watching some of her old films with her daughter, notably the John Hughes vehicles that made her a star.

Ringwald rightfully pointed out how Hughes altered the face of teen films. To paraphrase, until then, actors playing teens were older; the everyday aspects of their lives were not given focus; female characters had no real efficacy. Hughes changed all that. His films were popular, funny, engaging, and those of us who watched them could identify with the characters. We saw ourselves on screen — our fears, triumphs, and foibles.

She also noted how uncomfortable it made her to view these films in the current #MeToo atmosphere. In particular, the sexually aggressive and harassing behavior of the John Bender character in The Breakfast Club could be grounds for a lawsuit today. In the film, it’s played for laughs, and Claire, Ringwald’s character, responds positively to it in the end. In Sixteen Candles, Farmer Ted’s deal to return a classmate’s pair of underpants for a chance at an unconscious (and non-consenting) woman is equally problematic in light of our newly awakened sense of how women in 2018 are still treated as if they aren’t quite human.

Sexy anti-hero and “criminal” John Bender, played by Judd Nelson.

Image: thebreakfastclub.wikia.com

In those days, behavior like Bender’s (and in real life, Harvey Weinstein’s) was ubiquitous. Pushback was rare. Nobody talked about consent. In most of these films, men, or boys, did have all the power. The female characters existed as a means to an end (status) or offered an end in themselves (the quest to get laid as seen in Porky’s). Getting the girl one had a crush on was a major achievement that implied a woman can be acquired like a coveted object or trophy.

I think Ringwald made a good case for viewing these things as debatable. They always have been, but for some reason, perhaps self-preservation or internalized misogyny, many women who grew up during that time did not view them as such. I’ve already seen pushback on her article in my own circles. A notable example came from a male writer I know, who stated that he saw Hughes’ portrayals of teenagers as semi-authentic for the time, and that Ringwald doesn’t speak for everyone.

Of course, they were authentic. And Ringwald does point that out. But when does nostalgia become a reason to dismiss acknowledgment that these characters exhibit attitudes we no longer wish to entertain? Society evolves and the things we took for granted then absolutely should make us uncomfortable now.

I have the same feelings as Ringwald when I read some young adult (YA) literature from that era. In my own personal library, which contains a large amount of YA and children’s literature largely because I have a horror of discarding books, I had one from a library book sale called A Different Kind of Love (1985)Protagonist Elizabeth, nicknamed Weeble, is a fourteen-year-old girl in a single-parent family whose visiting uncle’s affections become inappropriate.

Author Michael Borich deals with something we don’t often think or talk about when discussing child molestation — that being touched and held and in turn, loved, feels good. That it’s possible for a child who is being victimized to have affection for an abuser. And that abuse often comes from people we feel we should trust or love, and how difficult and confusing that can be for victims, and why it’s so hard for them to speak up.

Reading it did make me squirm, mostly because the adults, though concerned, are so blasé about the situation. At the time of publication, teachers were not mandated reporters, so a trusted educator in whom Weeble confides does nothing more than advise her. Her mother kicks her brother out of the house (good), but no one calls the police. And though Borich declines to explore it, the mother’s first reaction is a common one in molestation cases where a family member is involved: disbelief.

Though some might think dated materials can be safely retired, I think it’s fine to use them for a larger discussion. I did end up ultimately discarding the book in the interest of space. But in my mind, I’ve moved forward from that time along with society. I know if I have children that talking to them about Weeble’s confusing feelings and the proper adult reactions, whether I use her as an example or not, would have to be part of that particular discussion.

And I would let them watch Hughes’ films, once they’re old enough to understand and talk about them. Ringwald makes mention of racism and homophobia in Hughes’ writing; it’s there, and it’s obvious. Hughes was both progressive and backward, and this uneven dichotomy shows glaringly in his treatment of exchange student Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles.

Yes, Long Duk Dong was a horrible Asian stereotype. Even his name is a racist joke. In contrast, we have his sexy girlfriend Marlene, a character referred to as “Lumberjack” (Deborah Pollack) because she’s taller — and thus less desirable — than the prom queens. Lumberjack is athletic, strong, and confident. She takes no shit and goes after the boy she likes. She’s also affectionate and in touch with her desires. She’s the best character in the film.

Debbie Pollack and Gedde Watanabe in Sixteen Candles (1984)

Image: imdb.com

I can’t blame Gedde Watanabe for playing The Donger; at the time, few non-caricature roles for Asian actors existed.  Despite this and Samantha’s father referring to his oldest daughter’s fiancé as “an oily bohunk,” a slur used to refer to people of Hungarian or Slavic descent, I don’t think these films should be binned. In addition to Lumberjack’s positive portrayal, the targeted audience of this film found much to identify with in Samantha’s family dynamics and her attempts to navigate a crush on the cutest boy in school.

In closing, Ringwald writes:

John wanted people to take teens seriously, and people did. The films are still taught in schools because good teachers want their students to know that what they feel and say is important; that if they talk, adults and peers will listen. I think that it’s ultimately the greatest value of the films, and why I hope they will endure. The conversations about them will change, and they should. It’s up to the following generations to figure out how to continue those conversations and make them their own—to keep talking, in schools, in activism and art—and trust that we care.

My writer friend can discount the misogyny in Hughes’ films because as a man, he never had to deal with it. We’re not too disparate in age and we both grew up with these attitudes. It took time for me to parse my own internalization and discard them. I still enjoy the films too and I understand where he’s coming from. It’s hard not to romanticize the past, but we also have to recognize the tarnished aspects of it.

Ringwald’s instinct to watch her films with her children is a good one. So is her desire to initiate a discussion involving the elements that have changed or evolved over time. No, we no longer feel that sexual harassment is funny or entertaining. Yes, you’re right to feel uneasy about it, and here’s why. If kids today can recognize that when they watch the films, and parents are engaging them on these topics, then we’re on the right path to a more respectful society. John Hughes’ films can serve as a tool to get us there.

I Saw the New IT Film and I Bloody Hated It

WARNING!!! THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE 2017 ADAPTATION OF STEPHEN KING’S IT.

Today, I took advantage of an Alamo Drafthouse $6 ticket price special for shows before 2 p.m. and I chose IT. Well, the chicken strips were good, anyway.

Everyone knows I’m a huge Stephen King fan, and I had high hopes for this film. I really did. Special effects have grown leaps and bounds thanks to CGI since the first TV adaptation. And they really nailed the look of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). That made me think it might be worth seeing.

Silver suit–check. Orange pompoms–check. Malevolent smile–check.

Image:  youtube.com

Alas, it was not to be. Instead, I got an overblown, shallow version with myriad jump-scares that didn’t even make me jump.  Not once. In short, it was shit.

Stephen King’s novel is a behemoth at 1,138 pages. There is no way you could do it all in one film, and this is the first of two. The filmmakers wisely chose to put the kids in the first film and save the grownups for Chapter Two.

The children’s section of the book is set in the 1950s. Characters have 1950s names – Richie, Beverly, Bill, Stan, and Betty. Obviously when these kids grow up, they’re adults in the 1980s.

The kids’ period has been updated to the 1980s. Kids then had names like Matt, Jennifer, Shelley, Daniel, Becky, and Kenny. Of course, millennials wouldn’t know that, but anyone old enough to have read the book when it came out absolutely will notice. Though not a huge problem, it lends a jarring note to the film’s atmosphere.

I blew that off and kept watching.  Didn’t take long before I started to squirm in my seat. It physically hurt to watch them gut the story. I recognized moments from the book as they began, and then they shot off track into unknown and ridiculous territory.

The deviations robbed many of the story’s most powerful moments of their punch and skimmed the surface of the characters. Sloppy writing and contrived dialogue (there is TONS of great dialogue in the book; they should have used it) only made it worse.

In the novel, each kid has a separate encounter with It before they are drawn into the Losers Club. These scenes establish not only the kids’ characters but the monster’s (it’s a shape-shifter, and clever).  Only Beverly, Bill, Stan, and Eddie get to do this. We lose Mike’s giant bird, and Richie’s narrow escape from the big plastic Paul Bunyan statue.  Paul appeared in the background of a scene and I got super excited when I saw him; then he vanished for the rest of the film.

HI RICHIE! Wait–what? I only get a cameo? Well bust my buttons and call my agent!

Image: northumberlandnews.com

The dead boys at the Derry Standpipe who chase a horrified Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) become instead a misshapen painting in his rabbi father’s office. It’s inspired by something that scared the film’s director; it had nothing to do with the book, mind you. Like most of the film, actually.

Other choice missteps:

  • Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) is still a farm kid, but now an orphan. They barely spend any time on him before he joins the Losers Club. The adult story hinges on Mike, and they should have plumbed his character more here.
  • George Denbrough dies in the same way at the beginning of the film–Pennywise tears his arm off. Pretty awful, right? A kid getting his wing ripped completely off! He screams, he bleeds–and then the clown yanks him down into the storm drain and eats him. Not only is this anti-climactic (yes, really), now big brother Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) motivation changes from white-hot revenge to the anemic “Georgie isn’t dead; he’s only missing. We have to find him.”
  • Ben Hanscomb (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is still fat, but he looks a good two years younger than he should. Ben was supposed to be a BIG fat kid, not a teeny fat kid. His tormentor, bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) also looks far too young and isn’t really all that menacing, though Hamilton does his best. Taylor’s performance is good, but he gets eclipsed by Richie.
  • Patrick Hockstetter (Owen Teague), a shudderingly creepy character in the book, was barely in the film and should have been left out entirely if they weren’t going to do anything with him.
  • Not far in, I found myself asking, “Where the hell is little asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrak’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) aspirator?” A huge character tag for this hypochondriac kid, it pops up halfway through as though the writers forgot about it. We also get no sense of the power his fearful mother Sonia (Molly Atkinson) holds over him; it’s merely hinted at, and Atkinson’s part is also wasted.
  • The abandoned house on Neibolt Street made it into the film, but they bloated it into a giant burned-out haunted looking monstrosity, instead of the ordinary facade it was in the book. No werewolf because no 1950s; just Eddie’s leper, who starts out cool but devolves into another overdone effect.
  • A well in the house also becomes the portal to It’s lair, instead of the sewers in the Barrens. The Barrens themselves are merely backdrop here; they’re mentioned often and then discarded.

Why no, Myrtle, that house couldn’t possibly be haunted.

Image: mashable.com

The most egregious fail involves Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). She’s the only girl in the Losers Club. Book Beverly is tough and yet vulnerable, with a father who beats her, a pattern she repeats as an adult by marrying an abusive man.

To my disgust, the film utterly sexualized Beverly. This is what Hollywood does to girls. It starts by bumping up the book’s popular kids’ rumors that Beverly is a slut and will sleep with anyone.

It permeates the relationship between and her father; instead of hitting her, he sniffs her hair lasciviously after she comes back from the drugstore with a box of tampons (not in the novel). Nobody outright says he’s molesting her, but you get the sense that he wants to. This was only hinted at in the book–King focused on the beating because Bev’s husband Tom Rogan is also a violent man.

The film subverts Beverly’s role as an actual member of the group in a scene where all the boys stare mesmerized at her body as she sunbathes, thus establishing her merely as a sex object. Although Ben has a mad crush on her, in the book they don’t really think of her as a “girl” per se. She swiftly becomes one of them. This moment ruined that burgeoning dynamic entirely.

The rumors surface again when Bev’s father literally tries to rape her (“I’ve been hearing things about you, Bevvie.”).

Worst of all, at the climax of the film, Beverly is objectified again when Pennywise kidnaps her and plunges her into a catatonic state with its deadlights, so this otherwise resourceful girl cannot save herself (also ruining the deadlights for Chapter Two).  The boys have to save her.

Let me reiterate. THE BOYS HAVE TO SAVE HER.  It’s the power of the penis!  And how do they do that?

WITH A KISS. Yes, when Ben kisses her, Beverly comes out of her catatonic state. True love (not friendship, mind you!) wins the day!

At this point, I badly wanted to get out of the theater. I didn’t even wait for the credits to roll, something that as a soundtrack nerd, I usually anticipate.  Nope, up and out as if Pennywise himself were after me.

A very few things were okay.

  • Finn Wolfhard, whom I love as Mike Wheeler in Netflix’s Stranger Things, plays Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier. Despite the film’s lack of character development, Richie has a very strong personality and Wolfhard does a great job with it. He’s the character I felt was closest to the book version.
  • Instead of being a whiz at building things (adult Ben is a famous architect), kid Ben gets to be a history nerd. It provided an easy way to shoehorn the history of Derry and the ubiquitous presence of the clown into the story. And they left his anonymous love haiku to Beverly, a sweet moment in the book, intact.
  • The Apocalyptic Rock Fight survived, though short and clumsy in execution.

The jump scares are run-of-the-mill standard horror fare. I’ve seen so many scary movies that directors have to try much harder if they want to actually frighten me. The film was infested with them–they took up time that could have been used for character development. Instead of slowly building tension with each child’s It encounters, the film tried to cram it down the viewer’s throat–Here! This is gross! Fear it! FEAR IT!

IT said “Boo!” over and over but failed to get me on every level. I do not recommend this film. I don’t know if I’ll even bother to see Chapter Two.  If I do, I’ll most likely rent it from Redbox for a couple of bucks. But I won’t waste my popcorn money on it, or throw an Alamo experience down the drain again.

Just read the damn book.

Rating:  D-minus

Screw You in the Ass with a Cactus, 2016

You really are clawing at everybody on your way out, aren’t you, 2016?

Carrie Fisher, actor best known for Star Wars (Princess Leia, General Organa!) / writer (Postcards from the Edge and other books) / mental health and women’s rights advocate, at 60 (WAY too young), of a heart attack.  I have no words.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x) Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary 54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO's Documentary 'Bright Lights', USA - 10 Oct 2016

Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x)
Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary
54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO’s Documentary ‘Bright Lights’, USA – 10 Oct 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image:  tvline.com

Ricky Harris, comedian / actor (Everybody Hates Chris)at 54 (also WAY too young), of a heart attack.  I wasn’t a huge fan of Ricky’s, but I liked him on the show and I didn’t want to forget him here.

Jerod Harris / Getty Images, file

Ricky Harris in 2011. Photo: Jerod Harris / Getty Images, file

Image: nbcnews.com

George Michael, musician (formerly of the 1980s pop duo Wham!) / secret philanthropist, at 53 (okay, now this is getting stupid) of heart failure–quietly in his sleep, apparently.  I know a story about George where he doesn’t come off so well, but anyone can have a shitty day.  I liked his music.

Image: tvline.com

Richard Adams, writer (Watership Down–the bunny book) at 96, which is kind of old (but awesome).  He also wrote The Plague Dogs–it’s a very hard read because after you finish it, you want to kill anyone who experiments on dogs.

richard-adams-2016

Image: rte.ie

Liz Smith, actor, Royle Family and The Vicar of Dibley, at 95, also of being old (but still awesome).  I loved her as the dim-witted Letitia Cropley on Vicar.

Nooo not Mrs. Cropley!

Nooo not Mrs. Cropley!

Image: BBC / theguardian.com

RIP, folks, and party hearty with those who have gone before you.  Our only consolation is that this bastard tire fire of a year from Planet Hell has only four more days left.

To end on a lighter note, read this tweet.  It made me laugh out loud, which I think Carrie Fisher would have liked.  And everybody please take good care of your hearts.

Star Trek: Into Darkness–J.J. Abrams’ New Romp is a Must-See

StarTrekIntoDarkness_FinalUSPoster

Image:  Wikipedia

I just got back from watching Star Trek: Into Darkness, where I learned three things:

  1. When you have good characters and you stay true to them, you can do almost anything.
  2. Roddenberry’s universe just does not get old, even in repetition.
  3. Never, ever, ever, EVER piss off a Vulcan.
A boiling cauldron of seething rage.

A boiling cauldron of seething rage.

Image:  Wikipedia.com

I don’t know what I expected as a follow-up to the first reboot film, which I did enjoy.  For years, sequels followed a pattern of sucking madly, never quite reaching the pinnacle of the first film.  They get rushed out to make a buck; it still happens.

But Terminator 2: Judgment Day set  a new bar, that of a carefully crafted, separate movie that continues the first story and yet stands on its own, of taking time to do a follow-up that actually works.

Into Darkness does not disappoint.

I found it predictable in spots.  As a longtime Trek fan, I know these characters.  I know how they react to things, how they should react.  I know their personalities and the way they think.  Because of this, I have to turn off a tendency to look ahead and see if I can figure out what’s coming.

At times, I saw things before the characters did, but only just.  Audiences are more sophisticated these days.  We can see plants a mile away.  And if you know a universe well, it’s not hard to guess what might happen next.

Kirk (Chris Pine) is as cocky and headstrong as ever.  I like the whole Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) thing, carried over from the first film.  It lends a bit of emotional depth to the characters in a new way, and gives Quinto, a delightful actor in any role he does, a chance to really touch on Spock’s half-human side.

The plot starts out running.  The setup is super easy to spot, as Kirk gets in deep doo-doo for breaking the good old Prime Directive to save a crew member during an observation-only mission gone wonky (big surprise there).  Conveniently, his mentor’s faith in him restores him to first officer on the Enterprise, and when an even more convenient and transparent tragedy occurs, guess who gets another chance?

Soon, the Enterprise crew, minus one hotheaded (and rightly cautious) member, gets embroiled in a secretive, classified mission that of course, Kirk will improvise his way through again.  It all seems very straightforward–shoot these mysterious missiles at the scary Starfleet rogue terrorist and rid the world of his menace.  Straightforward, that is, until they are headed home with their dangerous target actually aboard instead of dead.  But since when did Kirk EVER follow any rules?

Which brings me to Benedict Cumberbatch.

Director J.J. Abrams and the marketers have been busting their asses to keep Into Darkness’s villain a secret.  I have been busting my ass to avoid any spoilers.  It was worth the effort—my face nearly cracked in the dark from my huge grin.  And I am NOT going to tell you who it is; you have to go see it for yourself.

Nope, not gonna.

Nope, not gonna.

Image:  scifichronicle.com

Cumberbatch seems in imminent danger of being typecast as a complete sociopath.  His acerbic portrayal of a modernized BBC Holmes in Sherlock pissed me off royally at first, but by the time I made it to the damn cliffhanger at the end of Series 2, he had wormed his antisocial way into my heart.  As awful as his Into Darkness character is, there comes a moment when you drop your guard, where a tiny mote of sympathy tries to misdirect you.

All the best villains are great for one reason:  they care about something.  They have motivation more complex than just a desire to create chaos.  Even if we don’t find out what is actually driving them, we sense that there is something underneath.  That is why Heath Ledger’s Joker was so amazing instead of just a directionless asshole.

Cumberbatch’s [still not gonna tell you] cares about a thing.  Cares so much, in fact, that he will do literally anything to get what he wants.  He’s a master of manipulation, but Kirk, even with the world’s easiest buttons to push, isn’t stupid.  His decisions aren’t always terrific, but they get the job done, and that’s why we love his crazy butt.

The last third of the movie is all action, but because we aren’t quite sure where loyalties lie, a nice tension flows through it.  Overall, it has good emotional range and stays true to the Star Trek universe despite the updates.  Much has been made of its dark, 9/11 influence, but you can ignore that and still enjoy it.

My only nitpicks are relatively minor:  the predictable plot turns, and a woefully brief scene with Klingons (who look FANTASTIC), perhaps a plant for a future film.    And I really don’t think Uhura needs any help to be awesome, do you?  I really would like to see Abrams do more with Star Trek’s female characters.  Finally, a bit where science officer Carol Wallace (Alice Eve) gets to be the token underwear model seems forced and obvious.

Oh, but thanks for the shirtless Kirk thing, there.  Whee!

Oh, but thanks for the shirtless Kirk thing, there. Whee!

Image: treknews.net

Things I enjoyed:

  • Special effects.  Fantastic, as expected, but because the story rocked, they didn’t overshadow anything.
  • You’ll need an extra snack bar napkin for a climactic scene with Kirk and Spock.
  • Cumberbatch.  Did I mention how fabulous he was? I think I might actually love this guy.  I’m dying for more Sherlock, although his and Martin Freeman’s burgeoning popularity and BBC’s insistence on quality episodes might make that wait quite long.
  • All the lovely little bits sprinkled throughout that could lead to more stories.  Klingons, crew stuff, and [nope, still not gonna tell you] at the end.

Go see Star Trek: Into Darkness before it leaves theaters.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

Skating Programs Tell a Story Too

The ISU Grand Prix begins today with Skate America, live from Kent, WA.  I have a vested interest in this year’s competition series:  I know one of the competitors!

Gracie Gold, 2012 U.S. Junior National Champion, will be competing at Skate Canada and at the Rostelecom Cup (Cup of Russia).  We both began at my home rink, although she now trains in the Chicago area.  She’s worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot, with the full support of her parents and twin sister Carly (also a very talented competitive skater!), and we’re all very proud of her.

Good luck, Gracie!

Watching skating for me is both entertaining and feeds my own attempts.  There’s no way in hell I’ll ever get to the elite level.  As you can tell by my repeated posts about it, I do enjoy it even if I kind of suck.  I like to copy what I can, which given my limited technical ability, isn’t much.

I couldn’t do a sport that didn’t have creativity at its heart, and skating does.  Putting together my latest program always starts with the following elements, which are very close to how I construct a story.

Music

I only pick music that speaks to me.  Since I’m an adult skater, my coach doesn’t choose it.  Only once has that happened, and she picked Schindler’s List, which is John Williams so I can live with that.  It has to have an emotional component, which I also seek in story subject matter.  The music is the idea, the basis for a skating program.

Your idea is what you’ll build your story on.  The possibilities are endless—true love, the zombie apocalypse, a trip to another world, or any combination thereof.

Here’s something I skated to (I had to cut it for time):

Choreography

Each movement communicates the idea or mood to the audience.  For the somber “I Could Have Done More” from Schindler’s List, I used long, slow strokes and smooth movements to express sadness and regret.  Jumps by their very nature are explosive.  But you can temper them with the surrounding elements and connecting moves.  For “Dance of the Witches,” in the above link, I used taps, turns, and hops to reflect the more lively music.

In writing, fast-paced action sequences call for short, staccato words.  Longer sentences and phrasing fit stream-of-consciousness passages and introspection.  Words are how a writer shows movement and mood, the way choreography shows it in dance and skating.  That’s one way different arts share similar elements.

Costume

Admit it—you like to see what they’re wearing.  I know I do; the costumes are one of the reasons I always wanted to skate!

And flying. Yes, doing spirals is like flying.

Image: Vesperholly / Wikimedia Commons

Dark colors impart a serious or melancholy feel, but so can very delicate colors if they’re muted.  Sparkles?  Yes, I like them.  If you’re not careful, an excess looks too flashy for a conservative program.  Costumes are rarely literal, but a jazzy number may have fringe or long gloves, while classical music lends itself to flowing, poetic fabrics.

I make my own dresses to save money.  Costumes are the cover on my little two-minute book. Okay, I haven’t tested Adult Bronze level yet, so technically it’s only 1:50.  Sue me!

Genre

Four kinds of music used in competitive programs that you tend to see each skating season:

  • Exotic (usually Spanish, sometimes tribal, Celtic or global stuff)
  • Jazz-flavored
  • Classical
  • Rock/modern

I’m almost at the point where I can tell by the costume what kind of music I’m going to hear.  And skaters recycle music like nobody’s business.  There are certain pieces that just lend themselves to skating, with variation in tempo and crescendo, and give skaters a lot of room for interpretation.  The genre dictates the program, the costume, and everything else.

Show programs, like the ones you see at the final exhibitions or in ice shows, are flashier, looser, and less serious.  Comedy is always welcome.  Evgeni Plusheko, three-time Olympic medalist, skated a good example in 2006:

The general writing equivalents would probably be:

  • Ethnic
  • Historical
  • Literary
  • Mainstream

You have to know into what genre your idea fits.  This will color the way you write it, and determine the way it’s marketed.  There are certain standard plot elements in genre fiction also, and although readers like a fresh approach, they still expect the basics.

——-

Check your local listings for the Grand Prix series, which airs on NBC through December 9.  Below, see a schedule someone was nice enough to post online. Thanks, Heather Winfield!

http://heatherw.com/mk/sch.htm

 

Prometheus: Afraid of its Own Ideas?

Image:  20th Century Fox Film Corp. / Prometheus-movie.com

Prometheus opened in theaters Friday, and I went to see it yesterday after skating practice.  Directed by Ridley Scott of both Alien and Blade Runner, and written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, this prequel to Alien is set in the same universe.  It’s rounded out by a sweeping and ominous score by Marc Streitenfeld.

I have both praise and criticism.  First of all, you need to see this movie in the theater.  You don’t need to see it in 3D.

Really.

Prometheus tells the story of a space mission seeking the answer to an age-old question:  where did we come from?   The title is the name of the ship, which comes from the Greek myth of Prometheus, punished by the gods for creating man from clay. 

Breath-taking overhead shots of a primordial landscape open the film.  Gradually we zoom in on a humanoid creature picking its way along the edge of an enormous waterfall.  It drinks a black liquid, deteriorates in agony, and falls over the edge.  DNA strands permeate the water.

Litterbug!

Image:  20th Century Fox Corp. / Prometheus-movie.com

A recurring motif of stars in ancient artwork is discovered by archaeologists and lovers Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green).  They trace the configuration to a distant system containing rocky planet LV-223.

The mission is bankrolled by an elderly businessman, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, unrecognizable in heavy makeup), who has become intrigued by the thesis that humankind originated from space creatures Shaw and Holloway have dubbed “Engineers.”

Along for the ride are practical captain Janek (Idris Elba), surly geologist Fifield (Sean Harris), nerdy biologist Milburn (Rafe Spall, son of Timothy Spall) and Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, a coldly corporate mission director.  Michael Fassbender is David, an android who looks after things while the crew is in stasis.

The acting is sincere.  Viewers may recognize Rapace from the Swedish adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, et. al.  Her Shaw is likeable, though not as tough as Ripley.  Theron is always a pleasure to watch.  Marshall-Green is appropriately excited without being too cocky.  The rest of the cast has a lot of personality for such token characters.

Fassbender steals every scene he’s in.   His David idolizes T.E. Lawrence, and echoes Ash, the rogue android from Alien, Data, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s humanoid wanna-be, and HAL from 2001.  We can’t determine if he has emotions or not.  One decision smacks of pure spite, but could also be seen as clinical curiosity about the consequences.

Famous last words: “I know what I’m doing!”

Image: 20th Century Fox Corp. / Prometheus-movie.com

Much of the film was shot in Iceland, an area of Earth still close to its primordial state.  It makes a decent substitute for LV-223.

Set designers revisited the biomechanical style of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, who designed the derelict ship in Alien and the xenomorph we know so well.  Giger himself produced the alien murals on LV-223.

Prometheus tackles big ideas, namely the theory of ancient astronauts who spread their DNA to earth and originated our species.  This idea is a natural outcrop of panspermia, that Earth and / or other planets may have been seeded long ago by asteroids carrying life ingredients around the universe.

It also briefly touches on the idea of humans assuming this god-like function, and how appallingly naïve they are about it.  David asks Holloway why he himself was created.  “Because we could,” is the flip reply, with Holloway not understanding the depth of what he has just said.

In time, LV-223 reveals many of its secrets.  Here is where the script collapses away from philosophizing and into frenetic, action/horror mode.

I found myself laughing at one unnecessary scene.  Horror directors always seem to make this same mistake: inserting a crazy aside.  A good example is the pharmacy scene in The Mist, which brings the story to a screeching halt to show you a really gross special effect, thus evaporating the tension.  I expected better from Scott.

Anyone who saw Alien will recognize certain things on LV-223. The identity of the space jockey, a giant fossilized being discovered on LV-426 by the Nostromo crew, is finally revealed.

“Wonder what happened here?” You don’t wanna know….

Image: sneakpeek.ca

But one gaping question is left unanswered, and Scott leaves the ending somewhat open.  I was disappointed, because I was hoping for answers NOW.  I’m still intrigued.  I would have liked to see what happened if it hadn’t ended the way it did, without waiting for another film.  I smell a sequel…but what would you call a sequel to a prequel?

It seemed to me that Prometheus sits on the very edge of being really profound through the entire first half, especially with that opening scene, but never takes the plunge.  Instead, it lapses into comfortable, sci-fi stereotypes.  The subsequent action eclipses the idea of the mission and becomes clichéd, predictable and non-scary.

I didn’t hate it.  But I didn’t love it, either.

Rating:  7 out of 10 (for effort)

Star Wars Day and Other Nerd Holidays

Happy Star Wars Day!  May the Fourth be with you!

I would hope some of my readers know what I’m talking about.   But if you don’t, today is Star Wars Day.   On this day, Star Wars fans celebrate their favorite films and culture.

“No, I’m not obsessed. Why do you ask?”

Image: Werner100359 / Wikimedia Commons

Geeky demonstrations of fandom are nothing new.  During the 1960s and 1970s, Lord of the Rings devotees ran around saying “Frodo lives!” and “Gandalf for president!” or writing it all over everything.  But with the advent of the Internet, they have exploded.

May 25, Geek Pride Day, started with a loosely organized event called the Geek Pride Festival, made by Tim McEachern, which ran in Albany, New York from 1998 to 2000.  It was picked up in Spain in 2006 and spread like wildfire via the tubes.

Geeks and nerds are becoming the new cool.  In typical geek fashion, this 2011 article by Todd Bishop on GeekWire contains charts explaining the aspects of geekdom.

Companies like ThinkGeek cater to our desire for toys and gadgets from our favorite media offerings, or cool stuff like cubicle trebuchets with which we can launch office wars.   A calendar program I came across called VueMinder Lite (the free version) has an option to fill in geek holidays.   And conventions like DragonCon, ComicCon and VisionCon attract major and minor celebrities alike.

Besides Star Wars Day, some of the holidays geeks have created or commandeered include:

CapsLock Day—June 28 and October 22

I hadn’t heard of this one, but it’s pretty funny.   One of my coworkers at Exjob would love this one.  All his emails LOOK LIKE THIS.  YES HE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THAT IN INTERNET SPEAK, THIS IS CONSIDERED YELLING.  The original holiday was in October, and the June 28 addition celebrates capspeak pitchman Billy Mays.

Pi Day—March 14

Celebrates pi, or π, the mathematical thing.  No, I don’t do math but I know the first three digits of pi are 3.14.  So there.   Eat pie on this day and talk about math.  Or just eat pie.  :)

Computer Security Day—November 30

An international observance, this holiday originated in 1988 to highlight computer security issues.  Celebrate by doing a virus check, changing a password, or helping a newbie with his/her computer safety issues.   This is a good day to schedule an annual equipment check.

Hobbit Day—September 22

Birthday of Bilbo and Frodo.  First started in 1978 by the American Tolkien Society.  Do something hobbity today!  Read some Tolkien, have a party with ale and fireworks (if you can).  Or just go barefoot, as hobbits do.

Talk Like a Pirate Day—September 19th

This is my FAVORITE geek holiday!  My chat room goes nuts with this one.  I attempt to get away with piratespeak as much as I can, even at work.  My ideal day job would be one where we get to dress up Pirate Day.  At the very least, I can usually get away with a ruffled blouse, boots and my skull earrings.

Official logo – more info at http://www.talklikeapirate.com/piratehome.html

You can find more geek holidays here, at Geekdays.com.   Pick your favorite and celebrate!

Gran Torino: Hollywood Gets it Right

How many of you saw Gran Torino?

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m behind.  If you’re like me and have not seen it, get the hell to your video store now.  Now!

Seriously, this movie was so good, it puts me into a killing rage over the rest of the lazy pap Hollywood is pumping out.

Kinda like this guy...

Warner Bros. Pictures / NYT

Situation:  Walt Kowalski, a weathered and misanthropic Korean War veteran has lost his wife.  A Hmong family is living next door to him, much to his crabby, racist chagrin. One night he catches their teenaged son Thao Vang Lor in his garage, clumsily attempting to steal his cherry 1970s Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation.  The family is ashamed and offers the kid’s services as reparation.  And so it begins.

Clint Eastwood has been working in films for decades.  The man knows a good story when he sees it.  He took one look at Nick Schenk’s freshly-optioned screenplay and insisted not a word be changed.

The story takes its time building the characters.  We get to know Walt fairly quickly, because he doesn’t hide his personality in the least.  Thao has a sister, Sue, who breaks through Walt’s crusty exterior not by being sweet and sunny, but by not taking any of his shit.

As the neighbors slowly and painfully get to know each other, we see that they each have troubles and conflicts.  Thao’s problems start to spill over into Walt’s life (and onto his lawn) not just because they live next door to each other, but because they are becoming friends.

Each scene moves the story along, a sign of good writing.  There is nothing wasted here.  I had no sense of time passing as I watched the film, as I often do when a story is packed with tedious filler.  Even the long and excruciatingly awkward barbecue Walt attends when he’s first invited over by Sue has its purpose in establishing first contact.

Schenk, a television writer, hit this one out of the ballpark.  If he never produces another screenplay, it won’t matter.  It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to know that this genial-looking writer, the same age as me, toiling away in TV work, had such a success.  If he can, I can.

To my friend who said “You can’t do anything important after 30,” TAKE THAT!

When a writer does something this good, it inspires the rest of us.  When Hollywood can take a powerful, affecting story and not screw it up, a tiny flicker of hope kindles inside me for the future of movies.  The day Eastwood no longer walks among us will be a tremendous loss and I hope there are other directors coming up behind him who are up to the challenge.

Watch the trailer for Gran Torino here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8Z2n534q1Q

 

Favorite Movies to Watch at Christmas

I should really call this MY favorite movies to watch at Christmas.

Everyone has certain films they enjoy during the holidays.  Some may be typical family fare, others are specific to them, for whatever reason.  Below, in no particular order, are my favorites.

A Christmas Carol (1984)

This would be the supremely creepy television film starring the incomparable George C. Scott, with David Warner as Bob Cratchit, Susannah York as Mrs. Cratchit, and a heart-wrenchingly adorable Tiny Tim (Anthony Walters). The sets perfectly capture the dismal conditions of early nineteenth-century London, and the costumes and hairstyles are authentic to the period (YES!).

Victorian England had a long tradition of yuletide ghost stories.  Marley’s ghost is terrifyingly pale and desolate.  This movie scared the Dickens (ha ha) out of me as a child.

This man was a genius.

Best moments:

  • When Scrooge arrives home on Christmas Eve, and the doorknocker turns into Marley’s face and goes “SCROOOOOOOOOOOOOGE!”
  • Also, the moment when the Ghost of Christmas Present (Edward Woodward) shows him the two starveling children Ignorance and Want and throws his own words back at him—“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

Home Alone (1990)

Yeah, I know, it’s obvious.  But this movie is so damn funny and it never gets old.  Kevin’s (Macauley Culkin) ingenuity at foiling the Wet Bandits’ feeble attempts to break into his home are a source of vicarious inventive glee.   Off topic: I always use the Wet Bandits as the perfect example of crime scene signature (leaving the water on when they leave).

Also stars esteemed actor Roberts Blossom as the curmudgeonly neighbor who keeps an eye on Kevin until his frantic mother (Catherine O’Hara) makes it home.

Best moments:

  • The Rube Goldberg booby traps.
  • “Keep the change, ya filthy animal!”

Yeah, kid, when the relatives show up we feel the same way.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Same year, very different movie.  This hilariously bizarre Frankenstein fantasy from Tim Burton has Johnny Depp as a disfigured misfit, Diane Wiest as the kindly Avon lady who takes him in, and Winona Ryder as Kim, her daughter and Edward’s crush.  Depp and Ryder began a three-year relationship during filming.

Best moments:

  • Vincent Price in his last role as the Inventor who creates poor Edward to assuage his loneliness.  His onscreen death as he presents Edward with his hands poignantly rides an arrow straight to your tear ducts, fueled by Danny Elfman’s beautiful score.
  • Edward trying to eat dinner like a normal person.  Alan Arkin is a scream as the oblivious, resigned father.

Poor Edward. All he needed was a little bit of syrup. But this cruel family would not let him have any.

A Christmas Story (1983)

Another obvious one, but everyone loves it.  Seriously, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this movie.  If there is such a person, they should be subjected to the fate that nearly befell Ebenezer Scrooge.

Peter Billingsley plays a little boy in the 1940s who wants a Red Ryder, 200-shot, carbine action, Range model air rifle for Christmas.  He fights to obtain his desire against a barrage of adults telling him “You’ll shoot your eye out!”  Based on the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, by Jean Shepherd.  Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon are awesome as his parents.

Best moments:

Everything really.  But my favorites are

  • “Fra-GEE-lay. Well, that must be Italian!”
  • “Meatloaf, meatloaf, double beetloaf.  I HATE meatloaf!”
  • Favorite line:  “Randy lay there like a slug.  It was his only defense!”

Lifebuoy soap. MY mother used Ivory to wash out my dirty mouth.

Better Off Dead (1985)

I don’t own this one but it’s on my want list.  Teenage guy Lane Meyer’s (John Cusack) girlfriend breaks up with him before Christmas.  Dad (David Ogden Stiers) thinks he’s doing drugs, his mute genius little brother (Scooter Stevens) sees more action than him, and his mother (Kim Darby) is just crazy.  His comical encounters with a rival skier, a homicidal paperboy and a charming French exchange student keep the laughs coming.  I haven’t seen this in a while.  Must remedy that.

Best moments:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgnhkxxYZv8&feature=related

  • Poor Monique (Diane Franklin) endures the alarming cultural and matchmaking efforts of her host mom to her fat, socially inept son Ricky.  “Fraaaaaanch toast, Fraaaanch fries….”
  • “I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!!!”

 Gremlins (1984)

One of my favorite horror comedy films ever!  Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan)’s traveling salesman father Randall (Hoyt Axton) gives him a very unusual Christmas present:  a tiny Mogwai, a little furry critter he finds in Chinatown, which Billy names Gizmo.  He ignores the warnings concerning Gizmo’s care and unleashes a scaly plague upon the small town where he lives.  His squeeze Kate (Phoebe Cates) and his younger buddy Pete (Corey Feldman) must help him reign in the monsters.

Friends don’t let monsters drive drunk.

Best moments:

  • Mom (Frances Lee McCain) has to dispose of one of the creatures in the microwave.  POOM!
  • Kate’s hilariously over-the-top story of what happened to her father at Christmas.

I’m sure there are others I’m leaving out here.  If you’re looking for films to watch on Christmas, you can check out the lists below or choose your favorite.  Have one you’d like to suggest?  Please share in the comments.

Merry Christmas!

http://www.ugo.com/movies/best-christmas-movies

http://my.news.yahoo.com/best-christmas-movies-093300347.html