11 December 2011

Xmas Season Movies, Day Three: Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Country: U.S.A.
Based on a novella by Arthur Schnitzler

The Lowdown
Age: 16 and over (explicit sexual content, extremely tame compared to what your 12 year-old has seen online)
In-laws, relatives: DON'T do it. Like the character Alice, your partner may use this film to start a rather uncomfortable discussion on what constitutes cheating and so on. If your relationship is going through a rocky phase, better watch this when alone.
Required level of sobriety: whether you drink or not, watching this film will feel as though you've been dragging a long, depressing night of drunkenness.
Audience: Mid-Atlantic mentality, mix of New York and London, maybe? It's not a film for the Bible belt-minded. This film is particularly satisfying to students of literature and amateurs of filmic semiotics.
Christmas Spirit: Yes, in the sense that Christmas is a time of year out of time, outside of our daily routine, when flames can unexpectedly shoot up from unseen, icy crevasses in our path.

This film is based on the aptly titled narrative Dream Story. I haven't read the Arthur Schnitzler novella so I don't know whether it was set around Christmas, but Kubrick was right to keep at that time of year or switch the action to the end of December. The film dedicates one day to routine, in between a Christmas party and a descent to darker recesses of humanity just before Christmas, and that routine day is an anomaly. There are times in life when the daily grind is a distant reality whereas the dream world, intoxicated, stoned, nightmarish feels like the most tangible layer of being.

This film was made for students of literature, every scene has its double, a degraded, dehumanised version of the first which in some cases was troubling to begin with. There is one woman in this film, duplicated mother, low-class prostitute, high-class prostitute, teenage prostitute with pimp father, daughter (the one with the dying father, and the main couple's daughter), they all have that reddish hair and statuesque figure. Colour coded, verbal reflexivity, scenic mirrors, Eyes Wide Shut is imbued with postmodernity and the bourgeois concerns of modernity. 

Here, I should pause to link to this very good essay about the film, Introducing Sociology: A Review of Eyes Wide Shut. It's certainly worth the read and, written in 2000, the essay was produced in the midst of that academic obsession with "commodification". But what, I ask you, in our world, is not subject to commodification? I just find the subject too facile. Still, the article provides many insights -- I'd been wondering about Alice's paintings too.

Back to the bourgeois and modernity: one of the many reasons why so many of our narratives centre on the wealthy is because those without daily contingencies possess the luxury of focusing on existential problems rather than counting pennies. 

A quality film can be watched over and over though Eyes Wide Shut loses some of its appeal  upon repeated viewings. Despite this being a supposed "art house" film, tension and anxieties around plot developments make for much of the interest here. A second viewing will allow you to complete the decoding of semiotics to your satisfaction. After seeing the film several times over more than a decade, I still discover tidbits. Nick Nightingale, pianist and a character who propels the plot and its main character forward, is a character who always stayed with me. This time, I looked up the actor who plays him, Todd Field. Sydney Pollack, also in a supporting role, is a natural, pitch perfect, but Field is magnificent. Also, I enjoyed Sky Dumont's performance. His character is some wealthy, European, sleazy seducer who tries it on with a drunken Alice Harford, a character who, like her wonderland namesake, is easily affected by potions and poisons.

I'm not giving anything away here by referring to the orgy. If you've ever heard anything about this film, you've heard about the "orgy" scene. So boring. Kubrick was a genius and I'm sure this is deliberate. I've never been to an orgy but I'm sure they are nothing like that. If the lighting was orchestrated by Kubrick and we could all look so airbrushed and look so good from any angle in any position, then we'd all be having orgies, wouldn't we? Except that luxury and perfectness makes it all appear rather sterile and, if not dehumanising, decidedly non-human. The orgy scene is the opposite of sexy. Eyes Wide Shut isn't a sexy film and that's how Kubrick intended it.

10 December 2011

Xmas Season Movies: Day Two, The Thin Man

The Thin Man (1934)
Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke
Country: U.S.A.
Based on a detective novel by Dashiell Hammett

The Lowdown
Age: all ages.
In-laws, relatives: yes, yes.
Required level of sobriety: the movie is still good sober but I suggest lining up five martinis at a time. It just seems rude not to keep up with the characters.
Audience: not for brutes, a certain level of sophistication required. Leave your socialist tendencies at the door. Yes, we know there was a depression going on. The whole point of these films was to forget about it by fantasizing about abundance.
Christmas Spirit: Plenty. If being passed out on martinis every night and giving open house Christmas parties out of your hotel suite is your idea of Christmas spirit -- and whose isn't?

What can I say? William Powell just sits there, shooting his gun at a Christmas tree for what seems like twenty minutes. If you don't appreciate the perversity in this, you might still like The Thin Man, but you won't feel its a part of you like so many of us do. It's one of my test when I'm getting to know someone. If they don't like The Thin Man, it gives me pause.

Yes, another whodunnit set around Christmastime. I wish there were more. Here, the plot twists aren't important as much as style and characterization and the style of the characters. William Powell and Myrna Loy made many Thin Man movies together. They were icons in their day, and they still are to people like me who go into shock every time some mundane person reminds them that, no, they are definitely not a reincarnation of Irene Bullock.

Christmas in New York in the thirties. To be transported there is all one needs to feel joy and I can ask no more of a movie.

09 December 2011

Xmas films day one: L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential (1997)
Country: USA
Director: Curtis Hanson
Based on a novel by: James Ellroy

Age: 12 and over. References to prostitution, drugs and porn but your kids are online, right?
In-laws, relative suitability: Should be fine with it but at 2.5 hours running time, fidgety and easily distracted people are out.
Audience: low, middle, high brow which is why this is one of the best films Hollywood has made in the last forty years.
Holiday sobriety meter: sober to tipsy. This isn't The Third Man, but you need to be able to pay attention.
Christmas spirit: not so much

I prefer films set around the Xmas season to straight Xmas movies. L.A. Confidential, based on James Ellroy's neo-noir novel is so carefully plotted and brilliantly executed, it is the sort of film I watch mesmerised whilst feeling a burning pit in the depths of my stomach because I didn't come up with the story. In my mind, when I write books and make movies, they're like L.A. Confidential, intelligent (especially for an American movie), stylish, captivating, and entertaining.

I'm a bit tongue-tied when talking about L.A. Confidential: great plot twists, great characterization, great atmosphere... so I turned to Roger Ebert's review and despite him giving the film the maximum four stars, I don't find his review particularly more illuminating than my open-mouthed awed.

I can't tell you what it's not. In L.A. Confidential, the plot resolved through raw intelligence. Only someone who has tried to write a mystery before can tell you how difficult it is to achieve this without making the "mystery" too simple or without having "off camera" information the investigator only reveals at the end. Or, the solution is so ridiculously convoluted and obtuse, only a pure genius would figure it out. Our Confidential hero, officer Edmund J. Exley, is just very smart and Ellroy conceived of a crime entanglement that's just good enough for his hero to almost fail to resolve.

The film attracted some of the best actors at the time, Crowe, Spacey, Cromwell, Strathairn, Rifkin probably because every part is written as though the character has a whole life, not just a half-life for a few scenes supporting a plot. The film gave Crowe and Basinger a lot of attention. I'm weak in the knees for Guy Pearce as Edmund J. Exley. I always was one for the incorruptible man. What makes his character perfect is that Exley is so intense, if you saw him walking towards you on the street, you'd cross for fear he'd start telling you Jesus Christ is your Lord and saviour. You know, the kind of character who is spellbounding onscreen and who you think about afterwards but the kind of person you definitely wouldn't want in your kitchen.

Aside: Prostitution, pornography, racism, political corruption, L.A. Confidential is as American as apple pie.

I hope I've inspired you to watch or re-watch L.A. Confidential, my first movie of the Christmas season 2011.

04 November 2011

Tolerance for Theatre Goers

Never him on the cross. Unwrap that candy! Josh Young as Judas Iscariot (foreground) and Paul Nolan as Jesus (background) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photography by David Hou. 

This blog is in reaction to a blog by BraeHockey I saw tweeted about this morning. It's another one of those "rules for attending theatre" blogs. BraeHockey must bare the brunt of my reaction to all those blogs, I'm afraid. I'm tired of them. It's as though people who go to the theatre don't see what a precarious art form it is and don't want anybody new to attend. 

Theatre should be for people of all walks of life and we should stop writing tax codes for them. I have never been accused of misbehaving in a theatre and I started going long before these "regulations" became rampant. I'm not talking about eighteenth century codes of dress, we all know what I mean. These laundry lists which attempt to enforce behaviour on others are partly a product of the internet and those millions of pulpits but not entirely. These "rules" started propping up on playbills and in the theatre section of newspapers before then. We need to think about who we could potentially be alienating here and not shoot ourselves in the foot. With our shoestring budgets and unglamorous daily contingencies, we forget there is an entire world out there that sees theatre as an elite. Some are narrow-minded twits who hate the arts but many are just people who are intimidated and waiting to be initiated. My philosophy is that we need them. We need to make them feel at ease with the idea of theatre being a part of their lives. The numerous posting of "rules-rules-rules" is counter-productive.

This is addressed to people who have a sake in the expansion of an ever-shrinking theatre audience and to those who are too intimidated to attend.

BraeHockey's blog seems only to refer to Stratford but there are all kinds of venues out there. The only time I felt out of place at a theatre was at Covent Garden. We'd just got off the plane, didn't want to miss that opera. We looked scruffy. Everybody there was dressed to the nines, something you don't see at the ENO (English National Opera) or any other venue I know of in London. In Canada, even the COC has a wide range audience-wise.

When in London, I go to the Globe with its mosh pit. It reminds one that theatre was never meant to be a formal occasion. Same with Ancient Greece. We call them plays because that is what they are. My point is that if one only attends Stratford one might get a semi-formal view of what theatre is. Not all theatres are like that. Some small venues in Toronto  and Montreal are positively hazardous to delicate clothing.

Stratford is a theatre for all. Poshos can wear their ball gowns. I wear jeans. The sites of the Stratford Festival Theatre are a place of great ease. The staff are super kind, no matter what you look like. Many on staff are townspeople, including students, who are trying to make ends meet. You will feel entirely comfortable there. I'm stating this because it might not feel this way from reading BraeHockey's blog. Let me address a few of the blog's points. 

3. Must you fidget? Here, Brae recounts a theatregoing experience about a woman digging around in her purse during the play. Brae says, the patron spent "the whole show" digging around in it. 

After having seen hundreds of plays, I have never seen anybody do this, but I must admit, I am guilty of digging through my handbag. Mea maxima culpa.

Yes, this year, I did a terrible thing at the theatre: I sneezed. Nope, I didn't have a cold, didn't have allergies. It was one of those uncontrollable human things. So, I dug around in my handbag, looking for a tissue. And then I actually had to blow my nose. The horror! Does it help if I say I felt very bad about it, very bad about something I had no control over?

Going to the theatre means being surrounded by other human beings. Stuff happens. We make noise. I find it's actually far more disruptive to my appreciation of a play if I work myself into a tizzy. Someone makes a bit of noise, I try harder to focus on the play. It really works and it's surely much better for my BP.

Note to potentially new theatre-goesr: I know you won't be digging through your handbag for the entire play and the chances of you sitting next to such a person are so infinitesimal, they are not worth considering.

4. Unwrap NOW! I've come around to the candy unwrapping for, I admit, very perverse reasons.

Yes, festivals like the Fringe and Summerworks attract young people, but, I have had to surrender and concede the point: Theatre is, largely, for me and little old people. Years ago, I used to see the "unwrap your candy before the show warning" on the programmes but that obviously wasn't good enough. Now at Stratford, a whimsical (or uncomfortable?) Des McAnuff speaks to us from the heavens and tells us to disrobe our confections before the show begins. Even funnier, at Jesus Christ Superstar, he tells us to unwrap away throughout the show since the music is going to drown out our activities anyway.

I saw every Stratford show this year and at every single non-Superstar show, I heard some candy unwrapping. The first few shows I saw, I was a bit annoyed, but then, it just became funny: "I'm eighty years-old and I'm gonna unwrap my godamn candy in the middle of the play if I damn well please. Was Des nest to me when we took that beach in Normandy? No? I didn't think so."

Not a bad rule but since theatres have decided to make such a huge deal of it, I now take pleasure in hearing octogenarians sticking it to the man.

5. Dress Decently

Apart from clothes which smell and could trouble the theatrical experience of everyone around you, I find this rule elitist and irrelevant. My ripped jeans have nothing to do with your theatre experience. Some of us don't spend money on clothes so we can afford to go to the theatre. Brae uses the term "have some respect" -- the straw that broke the camel's back and initiated this blog. ­­

Please, take it from me, I actually know several Stratford actors, and they couldn't care less what you are wearing. They have worked very hard for you to appreciate their performance no matter who you are, where you come from, no matter the contents of your wardrobe. I'm here to tell you that the large majority of people who work in theatre dress shabbily. They are open-minded, tolerant people. So are most of the patrons. 

Eight times out of ten, I wear jeans and a t-shirt because I usually attend matinees and on my own. At night, I tend to play dress up and go with a special one or friends. Theatre is a part of my life and I adapt it to my life. Sometimes, it's a grand occasion most times it isn't. I wish more people viewed theatre this way because then more people would go to the theatre.

Theatre lives from hand to mouth and survives thanks to the taxpayer. It cannot afford snobbish attitudes.

7. "Critique Elsewhere!"

This is baffling. Basically, according to Brae, you are not allowed to say you're not enjoying the show when others can overhear you. 

And I loved Kim Jong-Il. North Korea much?

Of course, you can bitch about the show! This is a democracy. During intermissions and after shows, I have overheard theatregoers make points I hadn't thought of and their contribution have sometimes enriched my enjoyment of the show. Sometimes, you don't enjoy a show that was designed to make you think and, for whatever reason, you didn't realise this until you heard a friend or overheard a stranger make a comment. There are layers of understanding to any show of substance, good or bad. You, sir, madam theatregoer, are by no means an omniscient genius and I encourage you all to listen. You might learn something.

Brae isn't even interested in positive vibes. Any comment is out of bounds until you are in your car. I disagree. A critical mind is one of the greatest asset you have in your life. Use it! If you are at a show with friends, you ARE absolutely within your rights to criticise the show with them. Don't anybody tell you otherwise. 

This year, a teenager who saw I was alone, struck up a conversation with me during the intermission of Titus. He was bursting and just had to tell someone what he thought of the show. This Stratford kid works a minimum-wage job and couldn't find anybody who could afford to go with him. He's loves everything having to do with history so he saved and saved to see Titus and Richard III. It was obvious he had to gather courage to go to the theatre alone but his love of history was too much to keep him away. He was over the moon and planned on seeing more Plays. Hey, theatre makers, we've got a new one! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

Theatre is all about being open to new experiences. Good theatre opens us up in our lives as well. That is what happened that night. I have enjoyed much of what I've seen on stage this year at Stratford, but my moment with the teenager was very special. We don't all have art-minded people around us. I may very well have been the only person that young man could have spoken to. This helped make his theatre experience an even more positive one. He found someone who was on the same vibe with him. If it had been up to Brae's most odd theatre "rules", this experience would never have happened. I'm sure our collective enthusiasm was overheard.

9. Shoes/You're not at home!

Ok, this is going to sound like I'm really coming down on Brae for the sake of it, but the problem with al those "rules" is that things are rarely black and white. It just so happens I have had a counter experience of the "shoes" rule this year. We were at Homecoming. A girl sat with her father in the row ahead of me. She unwrapped a lollipop thirty minutes into the play. Then, she removed her shoes and put them up on the empty seat in front of her. She didn't make noise apart from that. She was ensconced in her father's arm leaning the back of her head on his collar bone. She was watching the play intently, I could see because she was at a diagonal to me.

Growing up in Montreal, this sort of sight would not be uncommon in theatres when the venue isn't packed. I understand that Ontario is more conservative. Even Ontario theatre is more conservative. I acknowledge how that sight, as heartwarming as it was to me, might not be perceived as acceptable to others. My take on this is that I would much rather see this girl enjoying her theatre experience than her being at home sat in front of the TV or comp. This is someone from the next generation who might very well be back at the theatre. She didn't bother anybody else. I didn't see any reason to intervene and nor did the theatre staff. 

Parting words

Outrage is a decision. We have complete control over what we are outraged at. I live in a world with seven billion people. Very few of them will ever go to the theatre and this makes me despair. Personally, I don't have rules for theatre. My motto is tolerance. I just hope it rubs off.

24 October 2011

Mitt Romney Doesn't Know about the Birds and the Bees

A young woman completely stumped Mitt Romney at a Iowa town hall meeting when she told him that his support for an amendment to the constitution that would claim life begins at conception would prevent her from using birth control. Romney tells the women he is not against birth control but the very eloquent young woman goes to explain to Romney that he doesn't to understand that hormonal forms of birth control "prevent implantation, not conception". Rachel Maddow reports on this below, mentioning how the proposed constitutional amendment means a miscarriage could trigger a criminal investigation.

As Rachel Maddow explains, Romney's campaign should have prepared him to answer such a question. She goes on to give Romney and other "Cave Men" a simple lesson in reproduction and an explanation on how hormonal contraception works.

Must see TV.

Girl Power

Girls can change the world. A Sesame Street video.

Don't forget to visit our main page for "Occupy" news and more. 

Occupy's Canadian Origins

the ad that started it all

Read this Wikipedia entry for a history of the Occupy movement. 

And this NPR radio story about Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that started it all: "The Occupy protest seems to have come out of nowhere but the early participants like John Garcia in Seattle point to a specific catalyst: "I get Adbusters, so that's how I heard about it." Adbusters is an anti-consumerism magazine based in Vancouver British Columbia. This Summer it proposed a September 17th occupation of Wall Street and the idea caught on. Adbusters doesn't claim any control of the protest and it wouldn't give NPR and interview because it doesn't want to overshadow the movement. It sees itself more as an idea shop."

Legal enforcement bodies and the military join the movement #ows

Police officers who want to support the Occupy movement have their own website and twitter feed now. Occupy Police say they were hacked yesterday, but they are more determined than ever to go on with their protest.

Marines on non-active duty also have a website.

22 October 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral Closes for the First Time since WWII: Occupy London

Listen to the BBC Today Programme radio interview.

Obama's Risky Embrace of Occupy Wall Street

WaPo article about the Obama supposedly embracing OWS. I'm not sure he has but you can follow the link to the ABC News interview in the article. WaPo focuses on the potential pitfalls of such an alignment for the President.

17 October 2011

Right-Wing Hacker Releases Thousands of Occupy Wall Street Emails

Gawker reveals that Tom Ryan, a computer security expert from NYC, has leaked 3900 emails sent to Occupy Wall Street.

How many millions of African lives for your mobile?

Did you know that your mobile phone is directly linked to the war in Congo which has killed 5 millions and to the enslavement of children who work in mines?

Children work in those mines, digging with their bares hands. Poulsen's documentary "Blood in the Mobile" explores this. One of the reasons the media hasn't talked much about this is their inability to go to the Congo, something Poulsen does at great risk. The second reason of course is that we don't want to hear it. What are the lives of 5 millions Africans compared to your mobile?

Read an article about the film and watch the trailer

10 Ways to Support Occupy Wall Street

At Common Dreams

15 October 2011

Guardian coverage of OWS

The Guardian offers coverage of the protests in Europe, with an amazing photos of what looks like ten of thousands of protesters in Madrid.

BBC coverage of Occupy in Asia

Commentary and photos

Reuters. Caption says: "Taiwan is not used to demonstrations of this sort" BBC


is covering the event all day and globally.

Occupy Wall Street Goes Global

Protests all over the world today, starting in Asia. Follow the Guardian all day for more photos. So far, they have photos from Asia and Australia. Occupy Movement Goes Global.

Click to the main page for more Occupy Wall Street Coverage.

14 October 2011

Shepard Fairey Designs Occupy Wall Street Invitation

(Go to our main page for much more about Occupy Wall Street)

OWS needs a Kent State moment, says Deutsch (video)

Apparently, OWS needs better branding according to Deutsch. "I don't want people to take this the wrong way, says Deutsch." It's difficult not to, Donny. And then he says that the Tea Party movement has an "adultness" to it. Moran. This is the clip, Donny Deutsche talking to MSNBC.

Don't forget to click back to the main as Comrade Bingo becomes a OWS aggregator while the protests lasts.

Protesters get to stay

"The decision by Brookfield Office Properties Inc. to delay its planned cleaning of Zuchotti Park means that the protesters who have been living at the site for nearly a month will not be forced to depart and remove the tarps, beds and other items accumulated during the ongoing demonstration." Wall Street Journal

13 October 2011

Salon.com and Bloomberg turn around

Salon.com has a Occupy Wall Street section. The latest article on the site talks about today's big news: Bloomberg wants the park cleaned out of tents and protesters won't be able to use sleep bags and sleep on the benches of Zuccotti Park. Next two cents: of course, if you've ever been to New York, you've seen thousands of homeless sleep on thousands on park benches throughout the city every night. 

Michael Moore

Michael Moore has been a vocal supporter of OWS since the beginning, showing up at protests and giving the phenomenon publicity by talking about it to the media. His website has become a great source of information for all things OWS.

12 October 2011

Protesters are Packing on the Pounds

New York Times article about how the protesters feed themselves: Want to Get Fat on Wall Street? Try Protesting

Fat Cats Are not all Bankers

The Wall Street Bull Is a False God

The Old Testament God hates false idols. The Golden Calf as Wall Street Bull and a great story of how clergy from several faiths occupied Wall Street, Boston and D.C. Read about it in HuffPo

Exclusive OWS photos

Freelance photographer Andrea Lyons was at Occupy Wall Street this weekend. We thank her for giving us permission to publish them here.

 Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons

 Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons 

  Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons

  Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons

  Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons

  Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons

  Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons

 Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons

  Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons

 Photo copyright: Andrea Lyons

Democracy Now at OWS

Amy Goodman is one of the great journalists out there. Her team has been covering OWS since the very beginning. A new show is loaded onto the website every week day. I listen to the podcast of the show every night. Yesterday, Goodman mentions that both NYC mayor Bloomberg and the city of Washington D.C. have announced that the protesters can go on indefinitely. With Winter coming, I wonder how long the protest will last. 

11 October 2011

Where the 1% lives in Manhattan; Occupy Wall Street.

Today, the Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken their march to the doors of billionaire. Gawker created this map of where the 1% lives. Just click on the arrows.

Notes on Occupy Wall Street

A black woman talks about her positive experience with the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

Notes on Occupy Wall Street

Let's Not Forget OWS Was Censored at the Beginning

Occupy Wall Street

19 September 2011

Buffy's back! Fall season reviews, part one

Don't know what to watch this Fall? Fear not, Comrade Bingo is watching everything for you and telling you what to hit and what to miss. This is promising to be an exciting season so it's worth keeping tabs on what's going on.

Ringer (Premiered 13 September)

Genre: thriller
Stars: Sara Michelle Gellar
Channel: The CW

WARNING: all the trailers below give away plot and jokes

Sarah Michelle Gellar's return to the small screen with a plot that is such a ringer (sorry) for The Lying Game which started airing one month ago, is a tad disappointing. Mind you, this is a well-trodden storyline; twins who have been apart for some time reunite and switch lives. The plot inevitably involves following the downtrodden twin into the life of the rich twin. Rich twin dies or is other unable to resume her life which leaves downtrodden twin in luxury -- which is fine by the fooled family of rich twin who don't know what's happened to "twin" but they find her inexplicable sudden amenable personality rather enticing. I first read that plot in an Higgins Clark novel when I was a kid.

Derivative Buffy is better than no Buffy at all and The Lying Game isn't of better quality anyway and this is the grown up version. Acting is solid. Pilot ends with a non-shocking shocker but it's up to you whether you decide to play along.

Verdict: Recommend, although series-long thrillers are always a gamble. So, don't lock in that time slot for the entire year.

Free Agents (Premiered 14 September)

Genre: sitcom remake of a Britcom of the same name
Stars: Hank Azaria, Kathryn Hahn
Channel: NBC

Kathryn Hahn is an interesting actress who I didn't know before this but it's not enough to stick with a series that seems tired by the end of the pilot. Anthony Head (Buffy again!) plays the a-hole boss. Since The Office, every boss has to be a special kind of a-hole. Hank Azaria plays a newly-divorced man who is having trouble getting back in the sadd… zzzz…. there's nothing new here. No sense is wasting time telling you more.

Verdict: Don't recommend. Surfing the internet is a much better use of your time. Oh, and that joke in the trailer is the only funny joke in the entire show.

Up All Night (Premiered 14 September)

Genre: sitcom
Stars: Christine Applegate, Will Arnett
Channel: NBC

Yes, Will Arnett was brilliant as Gob in Arrested Development, but I am truly surprised he was ever forgiven for Running Wilde, a show which was pulled after a handful of episodes, a show which should have been pulled ten minutes into the pilot.

Here, we have a couple dealing with a first born. Mother goes back to work, father stays at home. We are meant to believe Arnett's character has never been in a grocery store. Now, how funny is that? Applegate's character has a female boss who is child free and (therefore) self-centred. Childfree people are all so awful, don't you know.

Run wild from this show.

The Secret Circle (Premiered 15 September)
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Romance
Channel: The CW

Another series based on L.J. Smith books and don't you wish you'd got on the Twilight bandwagon and got rich because, seemingly, there is no possible way of quenching that teenage/adult female thirst for this sort of tosh.

Ok, so I watch Gossip Girl because it's decadent and lurid. I watch The Lying Game because I'm a sucker for that twin thing. But I draw the line at The Secret Circle. Ok, that's not true. I'll be watching for a while but this is lacklustre execution of a lacklustre trope: girl moves in with grandma after mother was killed, to a town said mother fled as a young woman. Everybody in the town of New Salem (subtle) is a witch but they need our heroine's power to be, like, super powerful. 

If you decide to give up the day job, don't forget to involve adults in the plots of your books and soon-to-be tv series and make them super evil. This way you get a double audience, teenage girls and their loser (me) mothers (I'm not a mom).

The acting is blah, and, for the genre, the pacing for this pilot was lazy. 

Verdict: I hate myself for watching this show. Unless you are a girl under the age of 18, just don't do it.

Whitney (Premiered 15 September)
Genre: sitcom
Stars: Whitney Cummings
Channel: NBC

Ah, Whitney, Whitney, Whitney. Whitney Cummings is a terribly bad comedian who is hated by other comedians and that is quite a feat because that crowd is tighter than a bunch a rich boys who find themselves in separate interrogation rooms after raping the country club maid. You have to work hard to make that crowd turn on one of their own. Whitney (the real one) is cute and deluded into thinking that she's amazingly beautiful. Actually, she is an anti-feminist who say stupid stuff like that the problem with television today is that women on it are not beautiful enough. For starters. So she had to put herself out there to push up the beauty quotient. Her stand up isn't funny. Her show even less so. I don't know that one would have to work hard to convince me they were a photographer but I never believed for one second that (fictional) Whitney could be one. She can't act. Seinfeld couldn't act either and yet the show worked. Her boyfriend cannot convince us for one second that he would be with her.

Verdict: nothing to see here, folks. Move it along.

Homeland (Premieres 2 October)

Genre: Psychological thriller
Stars: Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin
Channel: Showtime

Showtime was smart enough to build up momentum for this show by releasing the pilot on the intertubes. It's time television understood the internet is its friend, not its enemy. Now I can't wait for the second episode of Homeland. 

A CIA agent after the bad, bad, bad terr-rists isn't at all my bag yet Homeland is simply excellent. The writing is tight. The cast is packed with excellent character actors and the story begins with an arc I could see stretch whilst maintaining tension for a while. The Manchurian Candidate highlights only add to the tension and potential of this show.

The problem with tv series thrillers is that the writers don't know how long the show will last. Will they have to stretch the story for one, two or five years? The problem with this of course, is that if writers are not prepared for a long run, they will keep adding complications to the plot until it makes no sense and there will never be a way to elucidate the plot. The sad casualties of this phenomenon include  The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, and Lost. However, if the writers plan for a long run, they will drag the plot and hardly ever reveal anything and bore us all. It's a catch-22. The Wire is one series which avoided this by ending a story every season. It's not as ambitious and dareisay lyrical but there is a reason why critics and viewers alike call it the best television show ever made.

Back to Homeland. Danes is a troubled CIA agent who screwed up an operation in Iraq and almost lost her job over it. Patinkin, her mentor, is not entirely deluded by his attachment to his duckling, and yet he realises she is a valuable asset to the agency. The chica has brains and let us pray the gods of television the writers won't bring relationships into the mix and make her all forlorn and tortured. So far, this show has respect for its female character: write the day and date. Danes is the bad cop who breaks the rules to get at the truth with her fist clutched to her heart and tears streaming down her cheeks whilst the star-spangled banner is playing, but, somehow, her zeal is attractive because the writing treats it for the dysfunction that it is. And, no, the show doesn't have a star-spangled banner scene, it's too smart for that, but we know she's that girl.

Verdict: Do not go to pass Go. Watch this.

Next week is the big one and I will probably break it down by posting a mid-week blog by Thursday or Friday. And I will try to add British shows but, British television seasons are even more fluid than they are over here, so I'm struggling a bit to find them.

Shows premiering this week:

Sunday 18
Downton Abbey

Monday 19
19 Two Broke Girls
19 The Playboy Club

Tuesday 20
New Girl
Raising Hope
Body of Proof

Wednesday 21
Fresh Meat
Modern Family
Harry's Law

Thursday 22
Person of Interest
Prime Suspect

Friday 23
A Gifted Man

Saturday 24
Rules of Engagement

02 August 2011

If Only She'd Run...

Margaret Atwood asks: ‘Are people like me welcome in this city?’

She means artists in Toronto. Since last year, Toronto has a mayor who makes Sarah Palin seem intelligent and literate. He was elected by the areas of Toronto which used to be suburbs but were swallowed during the nineties' trend of turning every big city into a mega-city. People who live in the old suburbs tend to prefer cars to public transit, sterile streets to funky, graffiti-ed ones, tidiness, not creativity. 

Well, Rod Ford is his Fool, of a brother, Doug Ford, have surpassed all expectations. Blind privatisation, transit, garbage disposal, libraries are being discussed even if such policies will affect service and cost billions more to the taxpayers (watch this public debate on public transit ). The right-wing disease has grown savage in recent years, mindless and cruel and it is spreading fast in Canada. Poor people are scum and don't deserve human dignity, don't you know. Toronto, with its urban heat, can get to 50 degrees Celsius in the Summer, but Ford resisted for a long time before finally declaring an extreme heat alert for the first time this year, two weeks ago. He resisted because such an alert triggers measures like keeping pools open late for people without AC and leaving homeless shelters open during the day. This costs the taxpayer money.

Like a mad hatter, like an American Tea Partier, Ford wants to rule not to make the state work but to make it disappear. And like those false libertarians South of the 49th, he hates gays and immigrants and artists, with a special kind of wrath for cyclists.

I am an artist and I left Toronto months ago. I don't think Toronto is a good place for a creative person to be right now.

Of course, I still live in Canada, a place now ruled by that horrific Lord Protector Stephen Harper. He takes money from small theatre companies and gives them to big arts organisations that don't need it nearly as much. He is worse than Ford in many ways and his power has greater reach. And he's not found of the LGBT community or brown people at all.

These are dark times for liberals. Dark times for all intelligent, free thinking people. After Doug Ford criticised the existence of public libraries, writer Margaret Atwood rose to defend them. Many think like her but individual wingnuts are calling for people to burn her books. Book burning. In Canada.

It's true that the fall of the Soviet Union is partly to blame for this. I hate totalitarian regimes as much as the next guy, but communism forced capitalists to participate in some wealth distribution, pensions, unions, universal healthcare of some form of it in many western countries. I also believe this is a white man, white race problem. Heterosexual white men (well, the ones who insist they are) feel threatened in a world where women, visible and invisible minorities have taken power and ceased to be voiceless. Several American states have a white minority and 18% of Canadians were not born in Canada. Of course, this last figure is interesting because in 1931, 22% of Canadians had not been born in Canada. One thing for sure, the shift in immigration, from immigrants of European extraction to those from Indochina, Africa and the Middle-East means that to some narrow-minded people, Canada doesn't "look" the same and this stirs up fear.

In the last quarter only, since the Lord Protector has gained his majority, immigration has fallen by 25% in Canada. It would be interesting to know how that reduction has affected immigrants from European countries.

Toronto, Canada, are undergoing a makeover. And when everything is wrecked, infrastructure, social programs, the arts, when children and women have nowhere to turn to when they are abused, who will pick up the pieces? I used to joke that Blade Runner was becoming more true everyday and I think savage and cruel capitalism will create the dystopic world writers like Suzanne Collins are writing about today. Not an exact copy of course, but her post-climate-change world (because, of course, Harper and Ford couldn't care less about the environment) in its resulting social inequities, may just around the corner for us.

Artists don't run for office and I very much doubt Atwood would. They shouldn't be an election for another four years, but I have high hopes Ford is a dirty politician and that something is afoot between him and KPMG. After all, it seems hardly possible to underestimate the man.

17 July 2011

The mane of the lioness

Why didn't Rebekah Brooks start tying back her hair back when this whole thing started? If some contexts, her hair might evoke all manner of the pre-Raphaelite ideals and sexuality, although that probably would have worked better when she was younger. But since the scandal exploded in full force a couple of weeks ago, her mane has only served to feed the idea that the woman is a crazed crone who bake babies in a pie. The fiery hair helped the public perception that this woman once suspected of physically abusing her then husband actor Ross Kemp is some kind of maniac. Even a tasteful chignon still revealing the lushness of Ms. Brooks' hair would have been better than the uncontrollable, over-abundant, draping crown.

Martin Rowson 2011, The Guardian

18 June 2011

In praise of Sarah Vowell

Vowell has a masters in art history. She started her career as a rock critic, became a public radio commentator, then turned to writing populist history books written from a highly personal point of view. She's quirky with a singular sense of humour. Always great if you can learn and have fun at the same time. The Wordy Shipmates is about the puritans in America. What struck me despite the puritan's genuine Bible literacy and sometimes literacy full stop, is how batshit crazy they were, just like many right-wing Americans today. There's a real continuum there. 

Unfamiliar Fishes is about western contact with Hawaii starting with Cook and all the way to the eventual annexation in 1898. In all her books, Vowell writes about visiting historical sites and talking to curators and guides and uses this as a technique to weave the past with the present and her reactions to what she sees. The personal technique is in lieu of academically rigour but it does give a good idea of how history survives in every day life.

Assassination Vacation is the oldest of the three books and my favourite. Vowell travels around the US looking for historical sites linked to the assassinations of three American presidents, Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. Like me, she keeps going back to the Lincoln Memorial, "the closest thing I have to a church". Three American presidents killed within thirty six years gives you an idea of how volatile the country has always been. She also rehabilitates Garfield, a forgotten president who escaped political corruption and might have made been a great president had he served for more the a few months. Garfield was a bookworm who would much have preferred staying in his library for the rest of his life. 


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