25 November 2008


I almost forgot. The best thing about the whole Twilight craze, of course, was last week's South Park episode. If you haven't yet seen it, do yourself a favor and sniff it out.

Per se.

I'm Not Mean, or, a Considered Twilight Review

Friends, I tread lightly. This is not going to be a no-holds barred review of the new Twilight film. Which, for the record, I wasn't crazy about. Instead, I am going to try to stick to some general comments about the interesting conditions that surround the film and would have made it hard to produce a film that was somehow more satisfactory to me. I will try not to give away any spoilers, and I will try REALLY hard not to do further damage to my friendship with J-Bro.

First, some context. I went to see Twilight Friday night with my 13-year-old cousin, who was so excited that she could hardly contain herself. We would have gone to one of the midnight shows on Thursday, but she had that whole pesky middle-school thing going on Friday morning, so we waited. We went to the last show of the evening, which took place in a 300 seat theatre that was only about a third full. Most of the audience consisted of women between the ages of 20 and 40. There were a few teenagers--but ones clearly old enough to have driven themselves. There were also a couple of boyfriends, and maybe a gay-best-friend or two as well. There was one awesome 30-something guy flying solo as well--clearly he has nothing better to do on Friday nights until The Hobbit finally comes out. I had to admire his moxy.

For the record, I have read the first three books of the series. Scratch that. I've read books 2 and 3. I listened to the first one on CD driving through Utah and Idaho this summer. (It seemed somehow fitting to listen to a story about Mormon vampires living in the PacNW while driving through Mormon country on the WAY to the PacNW!) I don't love these books. But I see the appeal and I don't, ultimately, find it surprising that they have really struck a nerve.

Now--the film itself. Although Stephenie Meyer says that she could see each of the books cinematically as she wrote, upon watching the film, it occurred to me that there are sort of insurmountable problems attached to the translation of this written text to film. This is interesting. And so I'm going to talk about this, instead of talking about the aspects of the film that I did not like that are going to get me into trouble with a friend I actually really respect and value.

1. The Jane Eyre Conundrum. Historically one of the problems of illustrating, staging, or filming Jane Eyre is Jane's own description of her physical self. If we are to believe her, Jane is, literally, a "plain Jane". Throughout the text she refers to herself as unexceptional looking, and compares her looks unfavorably to those of other women. There is a critical tradition that suggests that Jane is an unreliable narrator and that her description of herself might be based on a distorted image formed by childhood trauma. Whatever. The practical result of this is that it confronts artists/directors with a dilemma, given that Jane is the heroine (and lead character) of her own story: represent her visually as she describes herself (not very pretty), or make a conventional choice by casting (or otherwise representing) her as the most attractive woman in the production. One decision is clearly more in keeping with the spirit of Jane's narrative, the other is more likely to please audiences who like seeing love stories featuring attractive characters.

The director of Twilight faces the same choice. Bella also does not describe herself as a particularly attractive girl. And despite her popularity with the other guys at Forks High School (which can easily and plausibly be explained by the fact that she is an outsider in a place that doesn't often get transfusions--excuse the pun--of new blood in the student body population), readers do not necessarily have a reason to doubt her assessment of her own attractiveness. (Evidence for this--she was not nearly as popular in AZ as she is in WA--a fact made abundantly clear by her lack of experience with boys, love, etc.) While I do not think much of her acting, I do believe that Kristen Stewart is a much-better-than-average looking girl. This is a particularly a problem because of the next hurdle:

2. The Un-humanly Attractive Conundrum: In the fictional world that Meyer has created, one of the natural endowments of Mormon vampires is that they are unnaturally attractive. More attractive than a normal human. This is a difficulty on screen because Mormon vampires are, unfortunately, played by normal human actors. This was a concern in casting, apparently, because the casting of Edward Cullen took the consideration of 1000 actors. Unfortunately, Robert Pattinson is not un-humanly attractive (I don't care HOW attractive you might THINK he is--he doesn't look like a god). Nor are any of the other actors/actresses playing vampires in this film. Worse yet, they are not necessarily more attractive than Stewart herself. Especially troubling is the casting of Nikki Reed as Rosalie Hale. Reed is not stunningly beautiful, perhaps not even more beautiful than Stewart herself. This makes the awe of the student population of Forks HS and Bella's intimidation much less believable on screen than in the novels.

3. The Perils of First Person Narrative: Twilight, the book, is narrated in the first person by Bella herself. This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that she controls the perspective and tone of the narrative. Bella is a detached, disaffected, emotionally flat character. As annoying as I have sometimes found this as I have read the novels, I realize after seeing the movie that her voice is essential to the consistency and success of the tone. The books seem very, very serious to me. There is a feeling of dread, danger, and melancholy that is pervasive throughout the series--which I think accounts for much of the romantic tension between Bella and Edward. It is one of the few things that makes Edward, or Bella's unhealthy obsession with him, remotely believable.

While screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg has given a nod to Bella's narration with some strategically placed voiceover, the camera (and director) necessarily becomes the narrator of this story when it is translated to film. Through the camera lens the perspective widens and the audience sees that Bella's world contains a far more wide-ranging emotional landscape than the novel suggests. The humor in the first half of the film (almost all of which emanates from Bella's peer group at school) is a result of the fact that the camera captures the reality of a high school experience that Bella herself cannot convey because she is either self-absorbed (in the first part of the novel), or preoccupied with Edward (in the second half). This myopic picture of Bella's world is actually more conducive to the suspension of disbelief because the dark and weighty tone allows the reader to enter a world in which eternal love and noble vampires might exist. The injection of "reality" provided by the perspective of the camera only serves to remind the viewer that Edward and his kind (not to mention the all-consuming, yet virginal, passion between Edward and Bella) cannot possibly exist in our world.

These were jarring problems for me, and made it impossible for me to fully enjoy or get lost in this film (something which, in the most ideal of circumstances, is not easy for me to do).

There is one element I'd like to praise the film for though. I did not even realize myself how specifically I had pictured the setting of the story. This probably should not be so surprising, given the fact that it is one of those rare narratives that takes place in my backyard. But I was pleased that so much of the background of the film looked exactly like I had imagined (with only one notable exception). They did get the feel of the NW--particularly the more rural NW--down beautifully. And there are a couple of stunningly beautiful (dark and rainy!) shots of Multnomah Falls.

Ultimately none of my thoughts about the film matter much, since, as J-Bro has commented, I wasn't the audience for this film in the first place. The people it was produced for--my teenage cousin and Jamie, who is a self-professed fangirl--loved it. Fair enough. Truly satisfying things in this world are few and far between--I'm glad that they loved it.

See. Not mean.

19 November 2008

Woe is she

Today I let myself get dragged into a conversation about the lack of female representation in national politics and then I got mad and stomped my feet. In class.

I don't think that is very professional of me--do you?

18 November 2008

And one more thing

Today is the 17th anniversary of my independent driving life. I have been a driver now longer than I was not a driver. This seems worth noting.

Why would I remember this date? Fittingly, I got my driver's license on my mother's birthday, the year that I was 16. And today is her birthday. (I know, she's a Scorpio. Scary, huh?) I say it is fitting because I might still not have a license if it were not for the fact that she threatened to ground me until I got it. See, because I was a terrible, terrible driver. And I had older friends who all agreed to drive me around. But my parents had to pick up the slack, and apparently they didn't appreciate it so much. So that's why, 9 months after my 16th, she had to take drastic measures.

I passed my test, but I shouldn't have (I turned left off a one way street from the center lane, which should have meant an automatic failure). When I got back, I could see that she was clearly happier about it than I was. She made me drive to my dad's office to tell him and I drove off the parking lot in his old work car--a white Oldsmobile Cutlass which became known as "Bessie" in honor of her cow-like qualities. (Lumbering, slow, a propensity to think for a long time before starting.)

Anyway, in typical Karen fashion she made me a driver by shoving me into it. And I'm better for it. (Let's face it, we're all better for it.) Happy birthday to her.

A Note for OMD

If he is reading--

I didn't want to take up more space on YOUR blog, but I did want to say that, upon further reflection, I'd add both Paul Rudd and James Garner to my fantasy dinner party. The guest list already includes (and these picks should be no surprise to anyone), Henry Rollins, Chuck Klosterman, Kevin Smith, Crispin Glover and Jim Rome. I would put HR and CK on different ends of the table, of course, and JR near CK, since I can see JR being a controversial figure (based on anecdotal information about the propensity of smart guys to hate him, and based on the fact that I know from reading CK that he doesn't mind him so much). I'd put JG at the head of the table, and PR in the middle, since he seems like a guy who could bring people together.

If I made too much, I'd also invite Seth Green, although I know that he'd be an afterthought.

Please don't anyone post a comment about how there are no women on this list. I am aware that I am a traitor to my gender. But this is MY fantasy dinner party. You can invite Jane Addams to yours.

Diagnose This

Before I begin, let me extend an apology to those of you who don't watch House. You are not going to be interested in this post at all.

If you are still reading, I beg you to explain to me what is going on with this show. Because I am sincerely and completely baffled. I just don't understand it anymore.

Listen, I was a huge fan of House before the first episode even aired. I have been a Hugh Laurie fan since about 1993, when I saw him in the relatively horrible AIDS flick Peter's Friends (he was my favorite friend of Peter). I read his book The Gun Seller (a book I believe he only wrote to keep up with friend and comedy partner Stephen Fry, who turned his hand to fiction first). I even admit to occasionally popping Stewart Little into the DVD player to get a little Hugh-Laurie-in-bowtie action. (Actually, I've been trying to convince Ella that she really likes that movie so that I don't feel so creepy about watching it. But she isn't playing along.) SOOOO when I saw the previews for House--interesting premise, great supporting cast, dead-on American accent, and amazingly consistent limp--I knew it was a show I would enjoy. And I have enjoyed it, pretty regularly, for 5 seasons now. Although the show is ultimately formulaic, the relationships between the characters and the clever last-minute saves have kept me and interested and avid viewer.

I was somewhat concerned at the end of the 3rd season when the concluding episode left House without any of the original members of his team, and, for all intents and purposes, without a love interest. But, being a television viewer well versed in hour-long drama conventions, I assumed one of two things would happen at the beginning of the 4th season: either House would find some way to regroup the team (or at least a part thereof), or all three actors (Jennifer Morrison, Omar Epps, Jesse Spencer) would leave the show. After all, these seemed like the only conventional and, therefore, plausible resolutions. Well, mea culpa, people. I lived through the Bobby-Ewing-in-the-shower-it-was-all-a-dream Dallas season 10 opener, so I should have known that these television writers are sometimes a dodgy lot.

When it became clear that, in addition to a huge group of potential new team members, Chase, Cameron, and Foreman would continue to be written into scripts, I assume that the arrangement would be a temporary one (a la MI-5 cast member departures, which have generally occurred mid-season). And here we are, 8 episodes into the 2nd season after the dissolution of the original team, and CCF continue to appear.

Herein lies my first source of confusion. Although Omar Epps's character plays a fairly well-exposed role as the assistant leader of House's new diagnostic team, he has not been given much of a story line, or much character development, in the last 2 seasons. With the weird exception of last week's episode, Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer have only been given a few minutes of screen time (often together) an episode.

WHY? First of all, why would these actors continue on with the show in such diminished capacities? Only two reasons come immediately to mind. 1) Money. 2) The promise of new developments for their characters over time. I hate believing that any of these actors would stay solely for the money (since their new roles on the show amount to a demotion), let alone all of them staying solely for monetary reasons. On the other hand, I hate waiting for the other plot shoe to drop. Are they going to leave? OR is something very dramatic going to happen to make them central once again? Do I continue to keep Cameron (a character of whom I have always been fond) at a distance, believing that she will eventually REALLY leave the show? Do I invest any more effort in disliking Chase and wanting him to return down under, if he is just going on marry Cameron and take her off to another teaching hospital? There is too much tension--too many expectations--for me to be comfortable in my relationships with these characters. I just can't see where this is all going, and that makes me nervous.

Then there is House's relationship with Cuddy. Although I joked with Laura all of last season about how badly LC wanted to get with Greg, now that it is sort of happening, I feel a little icky about it. It feels slightly incestuous, not to mention inappropriate, given their professional relationship. And, of course, I am gun shy about any sparring partners getting together on a television show after the whole recent season 5 Moonlighting debacle.

Further, and this is probably the most complicated thing of all, the potential relationship has made me realize how much I dislike House, which is making it harder and harder for me to watch the show. Because the fact is, I like Cuddy. And I maybe even relate to her a little. (Not the successful and hot parts, but some of the other.) And I have realized that I fundamentally am worried for her emotional safety in a relationship with House. And THAT has made me realize that I don't have a lot of faith that he is a decent guy underneath it all. There are several things that have eroded that faith: his dealings with Wilson this season, his lack of any meaningful connection with his new team, his on-going quest to humiliate Cameron (especially since I am now convinced that he is no longer doing it because he has complicated feelings about her). But the biggest problem is USA. That's right. House marathons are to blame. When I only see him once a week, and have summers off, it is really easy for me to romanticize House. To think that he is just too smart for his own good, or a man with demons, or a rough exterior with a soft inner core. When I watch episodes on end though, I am confronted by the stark reality of Gregory House: he's an asshole all the time. And there is rarely any evidence that there is anything going on inside of him. And when that evidence does present itself, it is usually immediately undone.

It's too much unpleasantness. As much as I like the idea of him, the reality of him (and I realize the sad irony of using the word "reality" to describe a fictional character I am taking WAY too seriously), is too much for me. And I can't see my way to thinking that it would be a good thing for Lisa Cuddy.

So where does this leave me? I've become, increasingly, aware of a deep conflict. I am a House fan who can hardly bring myself to watch the show any longer. I'll watch it tonight, but through the cracks between my fingers, which will be over my eyes.

Tell me I'm wrong, fellow House fans. Give me a reason to believe again.

04 November 2008

The Election

Thank G-- it is over.

2012 is too soon. I need at least 10 years off from political ads.

03 November 2008

Doughnut Drama

So, because I know you are wondering how the doughnut experiment went on Halloween night, I am providing you with a little update. They were great. Typically doughnuts are my least favorite of all sweet things--the sweet thing that I am least likely to chase down. (My preferences are as follows, in case you care: Cookies, Pie, Candy of the Chocolate variety, Pudding-like things, Cake without much icing, Doughnuts, Cake with a lot of icing. I don't like icing much.) But I have always thought that it looked fun to make them. And, indeed, it is. Doughnut making includes some of my favorite baking and cooking processes: making dough, rolling out dough, cutting shapes out of dough (in this case with an Easter egg cookie cutter and an apple corer), and FRYING. This frying is foolproof. Heat the oil to 375 degrees, slip in the dough, wait about 30 seconds and flip. It couldn't be easier, really.

They were just plain raised doughnuts with an orange glaze. Not too sweet--since all the sweet comes from the glaze. And they were small and warm. Lovely, really. But, as Marcus found out, you have to be there to take part in the doughnut experience. Homemade doughnuts don't have much of a shelf life, and they really are best experienced right after they are fried.

It sounds great right? I bet you are wondering where the drama comes in. Well--just as I was firing up the fryer, the power went out. Everyone else thought this was really fun. But I was pissed. So we all ran around lighting candles, and the trick-or-treating part of our group returned to the house about 15 minutes later. We had about 20 people over--eating and talking and drinking cider in the dark. Not surprisingly, I sulked and did dishes.

But the lights eventually came back on, and I got to have my fun, and the doughnuts were considered a success, even though Ella thinks that I need to try chocolate.