Moseying along

I'm moving this here blog back over to Wordpress, where it actually started back in the days when you needed your own webspace to use Wordpress. And I actually had the money to afford my own webspace.

Is it just me...

...or is this Dollhouse promo very Tarantino-esque?

It's waaaay better than fast food

Kate kinda reminds me of the Wendy's girl here. Except much cuter.

Seth Gordon's 'The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters' (2007)

The King of Kong is an underdog story set in the world of competitive gaming. After being laid off from his job, Steve Wiebe, a fairly average, middle-class husband and father of two from Seattle, decided to beat the "world record" high score in Donkey Kong to pick up his spirits a bit and finally feel successful at something. After a few months, Steve did manage to beat the record, but claiming the title proved to be a little more difficult than expected.

You see, the standing record was held for 25 years by Billy Mitchell, a golden boy of competitive gaming and of Twin Galaxies, the organization that tracks high-score statistics for electronic video games. Billy had been in the competitive gaming culture from the beginning and had held the high scores for several games throughout the years. However, when Steve set out to beat his Donkey Kong score, it was one of the last records that he held. Billy was loath to see it beaten, and he had friends at Twin Galaxies to help him make sure that he held on to it.

I couldn't help but notice while watching the movie that competitive gaming seems to be an overwhelmingly white male community. I don't think I saw a single person of color in the movie. I also felt a little uncomfortable with the gamers tossing around that so-and-so held the highest score "in the world" because Twin Galaxies seemed very U.S.-based, especially in its beginning.

For such a simple story, The King of Kong is surprisingly compelling. The film definitely criticizes Twin Galaxies for questionable judgement of challenges to high scores, but I think it's the sharp contrast between sensitive, earnest Steve Wiebe and cocky megalomaniac Billy Mitchell that's so interesting. Steve obviously gets a bum rap just because he dares to challenge the great Billy Mitchell, and the audience just wants to see Mitchell knocked down a peg or two.

'Caprica': "Pilot"

Enh. What a middling start to a series. Weird plotting, weird editing, bad acting — it was just weird. Not quite bad but not great either.

When the episode began, I was convinced that I had accidentally selected the wrong option on the DVD. I thought I must be watching some preview for one of those crappy, exploitative procedural shows. Surely, this isn't Caprica.

But it was.

Caprica and I got off to a bad start with the all the gratuitous topless women – I could only pick out one topless man in the sex room for certain – and the use of "lesbian" sexuality as shorthand for debauchery. Avan Jogia and Magda Apanowicz's weak performances did nothing to ameliorate the situation. The episode did improve eventually but never really seemed to hit its stride. While a few interesting moments were sprinkled throughout, I found the episode as a whole rather unfocused and, sadly, pretty forgettable.

Personally, I think I would have started the episode with the Graystones at home rather than in V Club. Zoe and her mother argue, Mom drops Zoe off at school the next day, she runs away to Gemenon, Ben blows up the train. Credits. The "2 Weeks Later" card didn't do much to let the impact of the explosion really set in, while a nice credits sequence could have created a more meaningful pause. I don't think that we should have seen Zoe's avatar until Daniel first visits V Club after she has died. I suspect that most of the audience is looking for pieces of how the Cylons came to be, so why give them one of the pieces in the first scene? Plus, the audience, like Daniel, would be surprised to see her if she hadn't been seen previously. I just don't understand the logic behind that decision. Also, notice how my version cuts Avan and Magda's screen time practically in half. That's not a coincidence.

I have to admit that I might be a little biased against Caprica because something about Eric Stoltz just bugs me, though I couldn't tell you what. In general, he seems to be a solid actor, and I actually think he's kinda sexy. But he bothers me for some reason. I can't point to anything wrong with his performance here, but I must say that I found his character rather confusing. I never bought him as a grieving parent. Never. And it probably didn't help that Stoltz and Alessandra Torresani had a strange, almost sexual chemistry, which made the thought of them being father and daughter quite icky. When Daniel hugs AvatarZoe and scans her, I thought his only motivation was that he wanted to know how his daughter had created the avatar and how he might use that technology in his work, which is a perfectly fine and interesting motivation for his character to have. However, the writers then seemed to want us to believe that he grabbed the code so that he could have a copy of his daughter, and then it seemed like a purely profit-motivated action, and then he was sad that he lost her avatar to a system failure... I don't know. If he was supposed to be both a grieving parent and an unscrupulous scientist, the former felt false to me.

Esai Morales, though also kinda sexy, was less interesting and had some weak spots in his performance. I'm not sure if I like that the father/grandfather of characters from Battlestar Galactica is a main character here just so that the BsG audience can hear a familiar name. I'm curious to see if he will actually feel involved in the main narrative of the series because the connection made between Joseph and Daniel seemed arbitrary and tenuous at best, so Joseph seems destined to be relegated to the B-plot.

Now, the moments that did grab my attention:
  • AvatarZoe telling Daniel all the places one can find information about people
  • Daniel telling Joseph that in his business "a difference that makes no difference is no difference"
  • The Inspector telling the Sister why he doesn't trust monotheism
I also found it interesting that some of the discussion around AvatarZoe and whether she was Zoe, whether a person's soul can be copied, sounded very similar to discussions I've heard on Dollhouse. It might be a Battle of the Series to see who addresses the topic "better" or in a more interesting way.

Even though I found this pilot a little lackluster, I think my money would still be on Caprica in that fight.

Gabrielle Baur's 'Venus Boyz' (2002)

Using a New York drag show as a starting point, Venus Boyz offers portraits of several drag kings in effort to explore performances of female masculinity. Each performer approaches drag from a unique perspective and situation. While all of them are queer, each would define their sexuality and their gender identity in different ways. Several of them are lesbians, one is transgender, one intersex, and another says she fancies women but prefers men because they turn her on more. Some of them only put on men's clothes for performances, but others maintain a more masculine appearance or gender identity all the time. Many of them think of their drag performances as social commentary, but some of them just have fun dressing up.

The film includes bits of interesting conversation around ideas of gender and gender performance, but not enough to really satisfy me. In particular, I would have loved some discussion around the misandry and misogyny I've often noticed from drag kings and transmen respectively. I was especially fascinated by the comments offered by the intersex individual in regards to how doctors determine sex and the differences zhe* has noticed in how people behave toward zhim now that zhe appears more masculine than feminine.

Gaining the trust of subjects is always the most important part of making an effective documentary. While Venus Boyz director Gabrielle Baur obviously accomplished that objective, her documentary falls short of being completely successful. The film feels like a collection of snapshots of individuals rather than a cohesive portrayal of a subculture.

*Confused by the strange 'Z' words in that sentence? Read about them here.

'Dollhouse': "Echo" (Unaired Pilot)

When I heard that the original Dollhouse pilot was not going to be aired as the first episode of the series, I groaned a little on the inside. I worried the switch foretold the recurrence of what happened to Firefly, despite Joss' insistence that he, rather than the network, chose to rework the pilot. But I admit that "Ghost" wasn't a "Train Job," and I can now say that "Echo" definitely isn't a "Serenity."

"Echo" does feel like more of a pilot to me than "Ghost" did, mostly because it focuses on the Dollhouse, rather than a client, and Ballard's investigation getting too close for Adelle's comfort. However, "Ghost" does a much better job of showing how the actives function rather than telling. "Echo" has a lot of exposition, but it also raises more of the moral and ethical debates regarding the concept of the Dollhouse. I kinda like this speech Topher gives:

You wear the tie because it never occurred to you not to. You eat eggs in the morning but never at night. You feel excitement and companionship when rich men you've never met put a ball through a net. You feel guilty, maybe a little suspicious every time you see that Salvation Army Santa. You look down for at least half-a-second if a woman leans forward. And your stomach rumbles every time you drive by a big golden arch, even if you weren't hungry before. Everybody's programmed, Boyd.

The pilot also affords Eliza Dushku better opportunity to play multiple characters, and she does really well. I enjoy her performance of practically all her personas, especially "Shauna Vickers," and each of them feels very distinct from one another. She even speaks Spanish, and her accent doesn't sound half-bad. I appreciate that none of the engagements in which she participates are particularly salacious, unlike the motorcycle-riding, shirt-dress-wearing persona in "Ghost." I also like that Echo's increasing self-awareness is specifically addressed in the pilot. Since all of the articles I read about Dollhouse mentioned that the plot of the series would be driven by Echo gaining a sense of self, I was surprised that "Ghost" didn't prominently feature a glitch.

I think I agree with Joss' decision to create a new first episode. While I'm usually yelling at him to hurry up and do something, here I felt like I needed to jerk back on Joss' reins. Especially in regards to Ballard, "Echo" jumps into plotlines and introduces ideas really quickly. Most of the first twenty-five minutes of the episode were cannibalized and used in other episodes throughout the season, and those scenes work as well if not better in their new contexts as they do here. The arguable A-story of the episode concerning Ballard and Echo was replaced by the slow-burning Ballard/Mellie storyline, which I prefer. The concept of Echo's first engagement as a Scared Straight-type, and some of the ideas it presents ("I am you, dumb-ass. I'm the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come."), also seems to have been morphed into the pro bono engagement in "Briar Rose."

In addition, Joss decided to hold out on revealing that Lubov is really an active. Even though the Whedonesque community wasn't surprised by the reveal, I think it was a good decision to sit on revealing that Lubov and Mellie are actives because it created a greater sense of paranoia that anyone could be a doll. Because of Tahmoh Penikett's presence, I can't help but compare the revelation of the "undercover" dolls to the divulgement of the 12 cylon models on Battlestar Galactica. Of course, revealing who are dolls isn't near as suspenseful as revealing cylons because an antagonism doesn't exist between actives and non-actives as it does between cylons and humans. But I do think that Joss manages to make the reveals of November and Whiskey interesting and significant, each in their own way. If Joss has any more doll reveals planned for season two, hopefully they won't be ruined.

I think what I find most interesting about pilots is seeing how/if any of the personalities of the main characters had been tweaked for the series proper. For example, in the C.S.I. pilot Gil Grissom is much more outgoing and personable, and in the Wonderfalls pilot, Aaron's disinterest and disconnection from Jaye belies the close relationship they have later on. In the case of this pilot, Boyd is much less fatherly and protective of Echo, sitting casually in the surveillance van reading a newspaper while she has a gun pointed at her heart. Adelle seems more human and less austere, though she still terrifies me with the small smile she gives to Topher and Boyd during their conversation about the mishap with Ballard. And Dr. Saunders seems much more self-conscious about her scars, literally hiding in the shadows for the bulk of a scene.

While Topher doesn't seem all that different, his characterization feels rocky. He has his three major personality traits on display – arrogance, questionable morality, and immaturity – but he seems a lot less nonchalant than usual. He says that he doesn't care about the moral questions surrounding what he does in the Dollhouse, but he becomes pretty intense in the (boring) argument he has with Dr. Saunders. Maybe Joss intentionally wanted to hint that Topher doesn't feel as detached as he seems, but having both his conversation with Boyd and discussion with Dr. Saunders in the same episode feels heavy-handed. Justifying that the imprinting isn't morally wrong, Topher tells both of them that the dolls fall in love, suggesting that maybe Topher envies that aspect of the dolls' engagements because he thinks that he can't or won't fall in love. But again, having him say the same thing twice in one episode feels clumsy. Topher says to Boyd that they are dolls and their bosses are like children who break their toys, which feels out of character. He is too full of himself and his abilities to ever compare himself to one of the actives.

Favorite lines:
  • "Eddie, she lacks ambition." (Echo)
  • "You are a dead woman." "Then how can you possibly hurt me?" (Eddie & Echo)
  • "Yeah. People are mostly crap." (Lubov)
  • "Was that flirting?" "I think so." (Loomis & Ballard)

Random thoughts:

  • What's with the anti-woman sentiment? Echo says, "Did you see him crying like a tiny woman?" and, "I'm trying so hard not to be such a girl." She makes both of those statements while she is imprinted, so maybe it's a comment on how society "programs" a certain amount of self-loathing in women? I don't know.
  • Ashley Johnson from "Omega" appears here, and she is just as good. Johnson has come a long way from being the baby on Growing Pains.
  • I don't know if it's the lighting or imperfect make-up, but Dr. Saunders' skin looks almost reptilian-like when she peeks through the files at Topher.

'Firefly': "Out of Gas"

I've finally reached an episode that doesn't bore me and is actually pretty good, so of course I'm having difficulty writing about it. Why is it so much easier to complain than to compliment?

I'm not quite sure how to describe the storytelling technique Tim Minear uses in this script. I suppose most simply put it's three different timelines that Minear interweaves, though it doesn't quite feel like nonlinear storytelling to me. I think the inter-cutting between the present (wounded Mal trying to fix the ship) and the near past (how Mal ended up shot on his broken ship) is quite effective because it allows the story to begin in medias res. The plot isn't terribly complicated nor particularly original, so the structure gives it a little pizazz. Not surprisingly, I don't love the deep flashbacks showing how each of the crew members ended up on Serenity. For the most part, I don't think they provide much information about these characters who, on the whole, sorely lack backgrounds.

Wash and Inara's flashbacks irk me the most. Wash's flashback exists for the cheap "laughs" of his mustache and Zoe saying that she "don't like 'im." Of course she didn't like him. No couple in the history of television liked each other at first. Yawn. The flashback with Inara renting the shuttle essentially rehashes what her interview with the Alliance officer in "Bushwhacked" reveals. Nothing new there. And similar to Zoe's "I don't like 'im," Inara tells Mal not to call her a whore ever again, which of course he does all the time. So I guess that flashback does provide new information: Mal is even more of an ass than I thought.

Jayne's flashback is entertaining, though not particularly revelatory. Like I said previously, I don't feel the need to learn more about Jayne's past at this point because it's clear how he ended up flying with Mal, so "entertaining" is perfectly satisfying. I think the final flashback serves as a nice coda to the episode, though again it's not all that telling. Kaylee's flashback is the only one that provides some new background information and character development. I remember being a little shocked by the introduction of Kaylee in flagrante delicto with Bester* because she has seemed rather naive about relationships up to this point in the series, despite all the talk of her nethers in the Big Damn Movie. We also learn that before flying with Mal, Kaylee lived on a farm with her parents and even seemed to have a good relationship with her father. But of course, we never see this father who isn't an overbearing dictator or a deserter.

*Do we ever have any indication of how long the crew of Serenity has been flying together when the series begins? That fact never seemed that important until I read that Jewel Staite thinks that Kaylee is supposed to be around 19-years-old. Staite was 19 and 20 while filming the series, so that's not an outrageous assumption. But if Kaylee is supposed to be 19 when the events of the series happen, then how old would she have been in this flashback? Would she have been over 18? Because Bester is clearly not a teenager. (The actor is 10 years older than Staite.)

I totally don't buy that wounded Mal with his one bitty gun would scare off the half-dozen pirates who shoot him. Even if they find him enough of a threat to retreat to their ship, why didn't they wait until Mal expired to take over Serenity? Mal had a good chance of dying: even if the gunshot wound to the gut didn't kill him, it could prevent him from repairing the ship so that he would suffocate. The pirates could easily have flown away when they saw the shuttles return. Anyway, that's what I would have done.

Nathan Fillion has to spend a lot of time alone in this episode, and I think he does a great job keeping the audience involved, even though he doesn't have any dialogue. He really sells Mal's pain without going too over-the-top or too hammy with it — he really knows how to bring physicality to a role. Even though I know that Mal won't die, Fillion's acting and David Solomon's direction manages to make me genuinely concerned for him. I like the sense of finality Solomon creates when the crew is saying their goodbyes and Mal is closing up the ship after the shuttles depart. Also, having Mal be simultaneously in danger of suffocating and bleeding to death effectively creates dramatic tension at the climax of the episode.

Favorite lines:
  • "You paid money for this, sir? On purpose?" (Zoe)
  • "'Day' is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It's not applicable. ...I didn't get you anything." (River)
  • "I mean, let's say you did kill us...or didn't. There could be torture. Whatever." (Mal)
Also? Simon is so pretty.

The Layer Cake

Stacy Peralta's 'Crips and Bloods: Made in America' (2008)

Stacy Peralta's documentary Made in America is ostensibly about the Crips and Bloods, two rival gangs in south Los Angeles. Instead, Peralta spends much of his time creating a brief sketch of the development of street gangs in LA and then turns to uninformative testimonials from current and former Crips and Bloods members. Peralta seems unable to ask tough questions, so he ends up only being able to say things that have been said before: there's a lack of father figures in the Black community, mothers are overworked or have drug problems, crack cocaine broke up families, innocent bystanders are killed. He doesn't delve into the particular cultures of the Crips and the Bloods or the structure of the gang as an organization, and he reduces the discussion about drug trade to a single, throwaway sentence. The most poignant point the film makes occurs within the first few minutes of Forrest Whitaker's sparse narration: if the feud between the Crips and the Bloods resulted in a pile of white bodies instead of Black bodies, would the government be doing more to end this modern-day "civil war"?

Much of the film's visuals consist of photos of young, shirtless men, flexing their muscles and showing off their weapons to a hip electronic and hip-hop soundtrack. Peralta walks a dangerous line between documenting and glorifying this culture, sometimes practically giving these men a pass for participating in this way of life because of the cultural restrictions placed on working-class Black men. I recognize that structures exist in society that make joining a gang a very appealing alternative for many young men of color; however, not every Black teenager ends up in a gang. Somewhere along the way a choice is made.

I was also very disappointed about women's participation in this documentary. Most of them appear in the section about the effects of gang violence. A few of them talk about the deaths of their loved ones, but most are featured in a montage of women who have lost family members crying silently. One scholar of street gangs is a white woman, and besides her only one woman, who speaks one sentence, discusses gangs in a context apart from having a murdered relative. The effect of this segregation is that women come across as only passive victims. Why weren't more women's impressions or experiences with gangs, from either outside or inside the culture, included?

'Can't Hardly Wait': The 'Buffy' Connection

It's not surprising that many teen flicks from my adolescence feature actors who also appear on Buffy. Actors who auditioned for parts on Buffy would be auditioning for other high school roles as well. But I don't think I've ever noticed a larger critical mass of Buffy actors, both recurring characters and guest stars, in a single project outside of the show than I did when I rewatched Can't Hardly Wait.

Of course, Seth Green plays a main character in both the film and the series, but also keep a look out for Amber Benson, who appears only briefly. (She had a slightly larger part that was cut in editing.)

Paige Moss, who played Veruca in season four, also has a couple quick scenes, which makes all the points of Willow's love triangles present and accounted for.

The rest of the double-dippers include:

Clea DuVall
(Jana/Marcie from "Out of Sight, Out of Mind")

Channon Roe
(Jock #1/Jack O'Toole from "The Zeppo")

Christopher Wiehl
(Horny Guy/Owen from "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date")

Eric Balfour
(Hippie Guy/Jesse from "Welcome to the Hellmouth" & "The Harvest")

John Patrick White
(Tassel Guy/Pete from "Beauty and the Beasts")

Nicole Bilderback
(Ready to Have Sex Girl/Cordette from "The Wish")

Nicole Bilderback was also in Bring It On, another teen movie from my adolescence with a (much smaller) contingent of Buffy alums. Also, looking up how Bilderback was credited on Buffy unexpectedly resolved an issue for me. In an episode of Angel (I think it's "Rm w/a Vu"), Angel tells Doyle that people called Cordy's high-school clique "The Cordettes," which always made me scowl because I thought Jane Espenson had just made up that really lame name for no apparent reason. I don't remember any character on Buffy referring to Cordelia and her lackeys as such, but apparently the writers did. We just didn't know about it because we weren't reading the scripts. It doesn't make me love the line from Angel, but it makes me scowl a lot less.

Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan's 'Can't Hardly Wait' (1998)

Can't Hardly Wait was one of those movies that everyone I knew had seen and could quote lines from when I was a teenager. I recently rewatched it for the first time in many, many years, and I was surprised at how much it still entertained me, which probably had a lot to do with its nostalgic value. Not only was Can't Hardly Wait a memorable movie from my adolescence, it features a lot of actors in the nascence of their careers, including a throng of actors who appear on Buffy.

The film follows the formula of a typical graduation/prom/significant high-school event-type movie: get a bunch of different high-school stereotypes in one place, involve them in convoluted and/or wacky situations, and cultivate romances between people in different social cliques. All our characters converge at a graduation party where Preston (the romantic nice-guy type) is trying to reveal his long-unrequited crush to Amanda (the homecoming queen type) who has just been dumped, William (the Revenge of the Nerds type) is trying to retaliate against Mike (the arrogant jock type) for years of bullying, Kenny (the "Pretty Fly for a White Guy" type) is trying to lose his virginity, and Denise (the cynical malcontent type) is trying to remember why she decided to come in the first place.

I find the casting choices rather interesting. Much of the main cast (Ethan Embry, Lauren Ambrose, Charlie Korsmo, Seth Green) were hardly the hot young actors at the time, and they have continued to remain more character actors rather than leading men and women. The actors with bigger names, at least at the time (Melissa Joan Hart, Jenna Elfman, Jerry O'Connell), have minor, uncredited roles. Of the main cast, Jennifer Love Hewitt was probably the movie's biggest name due to her starring role on the TV series Party of Five and in the horror flick I Know What You Did Last Summer. Seth Green would have recently scored big with Austin Powers, but most likely when the movie was shot he didn't yet have much in the way of box office draw.

Ethan Embry was in the peak of his film career to date at the time of this movie's release. He had appeared in the soon-to-be cult hit Empire Records, had a small part in the moderately successful That Thing You Do, and transitioned to a larger role in the critically panned Vegas Vacation. Here, he is arguably the leading man, and he plays Preston with a wide-eyed earnestness that I found appealing as a teen-aged girl. Though I still think Embry is cute and Preston undeniably sweet, he is also rather blandly written and doesn't have much interesting stuff to do. He pines and then is crushed. He pines some more and gets crushed again.

As his love interest, Amanda is equally lackluster. After being dumped by her long-term boyfriend, Amanda wonders if she has an identity outside of being Mike Dexter's girlfriend. By the end of the film, she realizes that of course she has another identity: being Preston's girlfriend. However, Amanda does get a moment that most female leads of romantic comedies do not when she speaks some truth to her suitor of questionable motives. She says to Preston: think I'm going to strip off my clothes and do you, right here, because, I don't know, you imagined that we shared some intimate moment that you have probably been drooling over for the past four years. God, how sick and deluded are you? You know what? Why don't you just go off and get yourself a goddamned life, asshole.

And she is absolutely right. Don't get me wrong: I like Preston. He doesn't seem like a creep or anything, but he also doesn't seem to know Amanda very well either. He thinks he knows her soul or something, but she can't put his name to his face. I doubt that they have had any extensive conversations over the years. Preston is in love with the idea of Amanda rather than Amanda herself, a not uncommon tendency for characters in romantic comedies. I find it refreshing this movie says that just because Preston has been pining from afar for so long doesn't mean he automatically gets the girl. But ultimately it is still a mainstream romantic comedy, so Preston and Amanda do get together by the end. However, I like that Amanda never apologizes for yelling at him, which for me leaves the validity of her censure of him intact. As Amanda, Jennifer Love Hewitt is fine but doesn't particularly own the role. I could see several other actors filling Amanda's shoes as adequately or even better than Hewitt does.

I find myself more engaged by Kenny and Denise's storyline, probably because they aren't the typical meet-cutes. They exist in different social spheres, but they aren't a popular girl/geek or jock/ugly duckling pairing. Both of these characters exist somewhere on the fringe of high-school society: while Denise doesn't try to fit in, Kenny tries so hard to be cool that he makes a fool of himself. I also connect to their story because it feels more real to me, probably because I had an experience similar to theirs at a graduation party. I ended up at a party with a boy whom I had been very good friends with when we were younger but who suddenly shunned our friendship when we got to high school. We didn't end up having sex on a bathroom floor, but we did talk and achieve a sense of closure. And I know that we wouldn't have had that conversation if we weren't at a graduation party, reminding us that a chapter of our lives was ending. I also love that Kenny and Denise end up having bad sex, breaking up, making up, feeling weird the next day, breaking up again, and then finding a bathroom to make up again. I don't feel like the movie is trying to sell me the idea that they found a perfect, happy ending. Their ending is simply happy enough. I really appreciate that Denise doesn't have to change to be with Kenny and that their relationship isn't meant to validate her. She might be slightly less cynical at the end of the movie, but she is pretty much the same person. Kenny, however, does have to change, but it's presented as though he has to abandon an adopted persona and be his real self, the Kenny Fisher who bought Denise a card and bag of conversation hearts on Valentine's Day. I remember having a lot of admiration for Denise and really liking Lauren Ambrose when I saw this movie in high school, and I don't think those impressions have changed much. I really like the dynamic between Ambrose and Seth Green, who also does a great job portraying Kenny's transformation from a caricature into a fully three-dimensional person.

My one complaint about the film is that it's not very gay-friendly. William plans to humiliate Mike by taking pictures of an unconscious Mike and male friend "in lurid embrace," and when the police find William and Mike in such a position they call them "sickos." After Amanda publicly dumps Mike, someone calls him a "fag," and everyone laughs at him. To counterbalance those incidents, the Angel Stripper encourages Preston when she thinks that he's in love with Barry Manilow, and writer-directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan seem to acknowledge the "bromance" between William and Mike by playing a music cue from Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You" when they drunkenly embrace. But I'm not sure that the latter two moments wash away the bad taste of the others.

Really, Can't Hardly Wait isn't a bad little high school film. It doesn't have anything particularly new to say, but it manages to say something interesting enough. And as a bonus, the movie features three very crushable gingers: Seth Green, of course, Lauren Ambrose, and Ethan Embry.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow & Tara and Doors

Thanks to the folks over at Whedonesque for the link! My blog has actually migrated, so if you'd like to leave a comment you can do so over here.

Of all the relationships on Buffy, Willow and Tara's feels the most separated from the goings-on of the other Scoobies. That separation is partly forced because their relationship is a lesbian one and thus not quite socially acceptable, especially on network television. Willow and Tara are much less physically affectionate in comparison to the show's other significant relationships, and at the beginning of their relationship their intimacy has to be portrayed through metaphor. In the context of the show, Willow does not openly date Tara at first because she is coming out to herself and worries about her friends' reactions. But Willow and Tara also remain conscious of and even maintain a separate space for their relationship to occupy. Because of the "behind closed doors" nature of their relationship, a close look at door imagery, of which there is quite a bit, is warranted and indeed rewarded. Doors, doorways, and entryways help to illustrate the progression of Willow and Tara's relationship and its integration into the "mainstream" of the show.

Of course, each character opens a door at some point, and theoretically everyone has to go through doors all the time to get from room to room and place to place. But doors are interesting. Doors are obviously associated with entry and exit, but often those entrances and exits relate to more than just the physical space. The ideas, people, and values that space represents are being embraced or dismissed as well. Who can open particular doors or pass through doorways into certain spaces indicates ownership, privilege, and power. Doors also provide isolation or privacy, and in the Buffyverse doors and doorways can effectively protect against vampires who cannot cross some thresholds without an invitation.

Doorways and entryways are also liminal spaces or places of transition. Obviously, people go from outside to inside or from one space to another through doorways, but entryways differ somewhat. They are part of a space but at the same time disconnected and, in fact, almost purgatorial: one only lingers in an entryway until accepted into the rest of the building where meaningful interactions take place. Liminal spaces often play a significant role in portraying queer relationships. Because same-sex relationships have been considered socially deviant, they oftentimes can only safely exist in liminal spaces, like a darkened alley or a bathroom stall. But restricting queer characters to liminal spaces ensures that their "threatening" sexuality does not come in contact with "moral," heterosexual spaces like marriage, the home, and the nuclear family. The confinement also implies that they do not or cannot belong in those places.

Images of doors, entryways, and doorways feature prominently throughout Willow and Tara's relationship, but Tara in particular has a lot of such imagery associated with her starting from her first appearance in "Hush." Indeed, Tara choosing to delve into the Scoobies' world of vampires, demons, and monsters is marked by a door. As Tara leaves her dorm room to find Willow so that they can do a spell together, she opens the door and looks back hesitantly at her room before shutting the door behind her. She has a definite moment of exiting one world and entering another. Because Tara is an outsider to the group, her space exists outside of the Scoobies' domain. And unlike Giles and Xander's apartments or Spike's crypt, Tara's room never becomes a place where the Scoobies hang out or even a place they visit sometimes. Because of that separation, Tara's room becomes a place where Willow may explore her sexuality and transition to a gay identity. Or perhaps that relationship is actually inverse: because Tara is queer she must inhabit separate space, which makes her an outsider. Because doors are such an important part of demarcating space, the majority of door imagery related to Tara reveals the limitations of how she may and what space she may occupy as a queer outsider.
Tara's role for much of season four is allowing Willow access to her room – access to queer space – quite literally opening her door so that their relationship may foster. Tara first opens her door to Willow in “The I in Team” when she drops by to ask if Tara wants to hang out after Buffy blows her off to patrol with Riley. Willow had been in Tara's room before to do magic together in "A New Man," but that scene begins with Willow already inside the room. Thus, this little moment of Willow asking if she can enter Tara's room seems more significant than her simply inquiring if Tara wants to "do something." Their body language also suggests something more: Willow is visibly nervous and hopeful, and Tara's smile is on the warmer side of friendly as she lets Willow into her room. Combined with the door closing, leaving the audience outside the room, I'm inclined to believe that this episode marks when Willow and Tara's relationship becomes more than just a friendship. This scene perhaps represents Willow's coming out to herself, choosing to enter Tara's room in a more significant way than before.

The following episode “Goodbye Iowa” contains a similar scene in which a very smiley Willow comes to Tara's room for help with a spell. They talk about the "spells" they did after the door closed in "The I in Team," and Tara says that she has been thinking about "that last spell [they] did all day," which overtly hints at the romantic nature of Willow and Tara's relationship for the first time. If "The I in Team" represents their first actually sexual (and not just magical) encounter, then "Goodbye Iowa" is their processing of that event. While Willow seems excited by their newly forming relationship, she has yet to fully embrace it because she still needs to knock and be let into Tara's room.

"New Moon Rising" obviously marks an important turning point for Willow and Tara when Willow doubly asserts her queer identity by choosing Tara over Oz and revealing to Buffy that she has been romantically involved with a woman. The first time Willow comes to Tara's room during the episode, Tara opens her door and invites Willow inside. When Willow visits a second time to tell Tara that she has chosen to be with her and not Oz, she steps into the room without a clear invitation. After making that choice and thereby establishing her queer identity, Willow has freer access to Tara's (queer) space and no longer has to pause in the liminal space of the doorway. Indeed, the next time Willow enters Tara's room in “Family” she opens the door without knocking.

While she must open doors to queer spaces for Willow, Tara must be escorted out of liminal spaces and into familiar ones as her and Willow's implied lesbian relationship becomes more explicit. Of course, Willow has to introduce Tara to her friends and their personal spaces, but Tara seemingly doesn't have the agency to enter even public Scooby spaces by herself. When Willow takes Tara to The Bronze in "Who Are You?" Tara had never been to the club before, which implies that she couldn't go there unaccompanied by Willow. Similarly, in “Family” Willow thinks that she hears Tara outside the Magic Box and opens the front door, suggesting that Tara could not have opened the door herself. In "The Real Me,” Tara even has to leave a space that had been familiar to her when the Scoobies begin to occupy it in a meaningful way. Tara says she comes to the Magic Box a lot, and only she knew the dead shopkeeper's name. But as Willow and Buffy investigate the murder scene and Giles begins to contemplate buying the store, Tara leaves the shop and joins Dawn outside, saying that it's "Best non-Scoobies like [them] stay out of the way."
In "Family," Tara finally enters a Scooby space by herself and, not coincidentally, finally feels embraced as part of the group in a way that she hadn't before. As the Scoobies help Buffy move out of her dorm room, Tara makes a joke that no one understands and then walks out the door, which emphasizes her feeling like an outsider despite very obviously wanting to be part of the group. Later in the episode when she walks into the Magic Box with Willow and sees her brother, she fears that his presence might jeopardize her ability to occupy that space, because her family could reveal her misguided belief that she is a demon. Even her personal space becomes compromised when she walks into her dorm room and finds her father inspecting her belongings. Feeling potentially excluded from the group, and indeed even from Sunnydale, Tara is pushed to liminal spaces and must perform her demon-hiding spell from a doorway in the magic shop. While that spell endangers the Scoobies by blinding them to demons, it also creates an opportunity for Tara to help them without any assistance from Willow. And Tara enters a Scooby space by herself for the first time when she walks into the Magic Box and warns Buffy about the Lei-Ach demon about to attack her.

Tara's incorporation into the Scoobies becomes conflated with the group's acceptance of Willow's new queer identity and their relationship. When Willow and Tara visit Giles' apartment in "Primeval” the morning after Willow outs their relationship, Giles must open his front door for them. Where they could barge into Giles' apartment in “Who Are You?” as an anonymous couple, after their relationship has been revealed they no longer have that power and privilege. As the Scoobies' create a place in the gang for Tara during the course of “Family,” they also must resolve their lingering uncertainty about Willow and Tara's relationship. Toward the beginning of the episode, Buffy and Xander are quick to say “it's cool” that Willow is now “Swingin' with the ['lesbian'] lifestyle,” but they also express a sense of alienation, worrying that they won't fit in at Tara's birthday party. And while they think Tara is "nice," “real nice,” “super nice,” they say that they “don't necessarily get her” because they don't understand “Half of what she says.” All they really seem to know about Tara is that she likes Willow, that she is a lesbian, which seemingly hinders their ability to communicate with her. By accepting Tara they also accept her sexuality and relationship with Willow, even though they may not understand it. Willow and Tara dancing together at The Bronze at the end of the episode, their first public display of couplehood, underscores that their relationship has also been newly acknowledged.

Tara does become more integrated into the Scoobies to the point that in “Bargaining” she helps a physically and emotionally exhausted Willow enter the Magic Box – where Willow once had to escort her into places the Scoobies frequent, Tara now helps Willow enter those same spaces. But unfortunately because Tara doesn't receive much character development outside of her relationship with Willow, her acceptance as a Scooby remains tied to her being in that relationship. Therefore, her persistent lingering in doorways seems appropriate, emphasizing her tenuous place in the Scooby gang.

As their relationship begins to strain, Tara is forced out of Scooby spaces and back into liminal spaces. She realizes that Willow has cast a spell to make her forget a disagreement while standing in the doorway to Dawn's room in "Once More With Feeling." Similarly in "Tabula Rasa," Tara stands in the entryway of the Summers' house when she snaps at Willow to hurry getting dressed. At the end of that episode Tara leaves Willow because of her abusive overuse of magic, walking out the front door of the Summers' house. When Tara returns to the house in “Smashed” and "Wrecked," she distances herself from the house's more personal spaces, remaining in the hallway when Dawn goes into Buffy and Willow's rooms to look for them. Her leaving the Magic Box in "Dead Things" also evidences her return to the fringe of the Scooby circle. She also only enters the Summers' house by invitation: Dawn asks Tara to keep her company in “Smashed” and Buffy invites her to her birthday party in “Older and Far Away.” In "Normal Again" Tara can enter the Summers' house without invitation and without knocking, seemingly because she is there to see Willow, which suggests that they could reconcile. When they do finally reunite in "Entropy," Tara can leave Willow's doorway and enter the bedroom as she verbally renegotiates her place in their relationship.
In the context of Willow and Tara's relationship, doors often represent both barriers that they must hurdle to connect with each other and safeguards that isolate their prohibited sexuality. In "Hush," Tara finds herself being chased by the Gentlemen as she goes to look for Willow, so she pushes through double doors into stairwells and knocks on dorm room doors as she tries to escape. The audience is misled into thinking that Tara is knocking on Willow's door, but when the door opens she is faced with a Gentleman holding a freshly harvested heart instead. As Tara runs away from the demon, Willow walks out of her room and they collide. But instead of retreating back into Willow's room, they run through more doors, downstairs, through more doors, and ultimately lock themselves in the laundry room. They then join hands and combine their magic to move a soda machine and barricade the door. In light of the later metaphor of magic representing lesbian sex, that bit of magic can be understood as their first sexual encounter, which takes place in a laundry room behind a locked door. It's almost as if Tara couldn't find Willow's door, they couldn't hide in Willow's room because the forbidden nature of their relationship precluded them from such personal and intimate spaces. They had to retreat through many doors and spaces until they reached the liminal space of the laundry room where they could engage in prohibited sexuality behind a locked, barricaded door. Interestingly, Willow and Tara are never shown alone together in the dorm room that Buffy and Willow share. Willow's room cannot be an intimate space for them as Tara's room is, until "The Real Me" when Willow has a single room and no longer lives with Buffy, making her room an assured queer space.

After running into Faith at The Bronze in "Who Are You?" Willow and Tara return to Tara's room and close the door behind them, which feels like a retreat of sorts. They had held hands at the club, and almost as punishment for being physically affectionate in public, they had been outed and ridiculed by Faith. The closing door coupled with Willow closing the curtain on the window emphasizes the isolation needed to perform the "Passage to the Nether Realm" spell, a thinly veiled metaphor for lesbian sex and the most graphic "sex" scene between the two women ever shown on the series.

Willow and Tara's passages through doorways in "Tabula Rasa" are intriguingly reminiscent of their interactions in "Hush" and readily comparable because they newly discover their attraction to each other after losing their memories. Due to some not unconvincing circumstances – and the fact that no one ever thinks that two women could be dating – Willow falsely assumes that Xander is her boyfriend. Much like "Hush," Willow and Tara have to descend into the sewers before their mutual attraction first surfaces. Then as they run away from a vampire, they hide behind walls and in drains until Willow pushes Tara out of harm's way and they almost kiss. Willow needs to experience a physical attraction to Tara to realize she's "kinda gay" though she never seems very attracted to "Alex." Even with blank slates, heterosexuality is still presumed and more acceptable. While Giles and Anya can explore their falsely assumed heterosexual relationship above ground in a familiar setting, Willow and Tara must again submit to a labyrinthine journey into impersonal space to discover their genuine attraction, even though they have come out and been together for almost two years. However, had Willow and Tara kissed, they would have done so in front of Xander and Dawn, and it would have been an actual display of lesbian sexuality rather than sexuality coded as a "spell." The similarities between "Hush" and "Tabula Rasa" suggest their relationship may not have become more socially acceptable over the intermediary two years, but their insistence at being out and their friends' support has allowed more freedom of expression.

In "New Moon Rising" contrasting door imagery related to Tara and Oz also delineates a difference in power and privilege between gay and straight relationships. The episode begins with Tara attending her first Scooby meeting in Giles' apartment, where of course Willow had to escort her. When Oz first returns, he stands in Giles' entryway having entered the apartment without knocking. His ability to walk into the Scoobies' personal space without permission underscores his privilege and perhaps even his status as a more socially acceptable partner for Willow. Later in the episode, he opens Willow's door when Tara knocks, which again emphasizes Oz's privilege, in this case to occupy Willow's personal space and even grant others access to it. The action also asserts Willow and Buffy's room as a heterosexual space that Tara cannot enter. In fact, there's a sense throughout the episode of Oz forcing Tara out of places, reclaiming them as heterosexual space and making her retreat. When Oz returns at the beginning of the episode, obviously wanting to regain his place in Willow's life and by extension the group, Tara "has to" leave Giles' apartment. Oz prevents Tara from entering Willow's bedroom, even though she had performed a spell with Willow and Giles there in "Where the Wild Things Are," and Oz literally chases Tara at one point in the episode when he becomes a werewolf.
Despite being forcibly segregated to an extent, Willow and Tara also maintain separate space for their relationship. Willow takes her time in introducing Tara to her other friends because she “kind of like[s] having something that's just, you know, [hers].” In "Restless," she says that she "never worr[ies] here," marking Tara's room as a safe space separate from the rest of her world. Similarly, in "After Life" Tara encourages Willow to be honest about her concerns as they get ready for bed, saying "This is the room where you don't have to be brave." Then as Willow expresses her worries about Buffy, she closes their door before she really starts opening up. After something that looks like Buffy violently wakes them, they peer into Buffy's bedroom without stepping inside and then return their room, closing the door behind them, before discussing the strange occurrence. They maintain a separate space in which they may converse meaningfully. And just as Willow and Tara need to be invited into Scooby spaces at times, Buffy must knock on Tara's door and wait for Willow to let her inside when she comes to check on Tara in "Superstar."

Because of Buffy and her mother's (and later Dawn's) positively portrayed relationship with each other, the Summers' house comes to represent the ideal nuclear family on Buffy. Therefore, Willow and Tara's presence in the house as an openly gay couple demonstrates how their relationship is becoming intermingled with more traditional ideas of relationships and family. Season five begins with the Scoobies having a day on the beach in "Buffy vs. Dracula," and Willow and Tara's relationship seems to have been acknowledged by the group, which Xander confirms when he tells Willow that "Everybody knows." But not quite everybody seems to know. Later in the episode Joyce tells Willow and Tara that when older women date they sometimes "feel like giving up on men altogether," causing Willow and Tara to exchange surreptitious little glances. They stand in the entryway during this conversation with Joyce, emphasizing that they are, at the moment at least, confined to a liminal space because Joyce doesn't know about, and thus has not accepted their relationship. The following episode "The Real Me" indicates that Joyce has become aware that they are a couple, and when Willow and Tara next come to the Summers' house in "Checkpoint" they can occupy the living room. After Buffy passes away, leaving Dawn without a guardian, Willow and Tara move into Buffy's house to take care of her. They demonstrate their newfound comfort in domesticity by moving through doorways in the house and even sharing a kiss in the hallway. In Joyce and Buffy's absence, not only can their relationship exist alongside the traditional nuclear family, they have redefined it.

Doors receive a lot of attention on Buffy. If someone were to take the time to note all the characters' interactions with doors, Tara might not stand out in comparison. But because of Willow's appreciation of her relationship with Tara as "something that's just [hers]" coupled with its socially taboo nature, Willow and Tara's association with doors seems more significant. The doors that the show runners choose, and sometimes are forced, to use also reveal the restrictions of portraying a lesbian relationship on network television at that time. Few lesbian relationships on network TV compare to Willow and Tara in regards to its duration and the amount of screen time they receive. And though instances of "lesbian" sexuality have become more common and less coded since 2002, the number of significant, recurring lesbian characters has not increased. If a network show were to tackle a long-running lesbian relationship not intended to titillate men or garner sweeps ratings, I wonder if it would still have to develop behind all those doors.

List of Every Single Time Willow/Tara Are in a Doorway Ever

Oh, the pigtails...

You know, for someone who was constantly changing her clothes because of all the make-up sex she was having in this episode, Tara is surprisingly coiffed and accessorized here. Normally, I didn't care for the hair-oh-no-they-di'n'ts and jewelry they tried on Tara, but I think she looks adorable with these pigtails and simple, dangly earrings. I don't even mind the flower necklace. I'm thankful that she gets to look dignified right before she... Sniffle! Well, you know what happens.

Sadly, it's still true

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.
— Rebecca West, 1913

(Photo by E.O. Hoppé, 1923)

Ginger Crush: David Wenham

Most of the time, when I have a crush (or a "crush") on someone their looks are only a small part, or even a nonexistent part, of why I find them attractive. I love their sense of humor, their confidence, their style, their talent... Except I really don't know much about David Wenham. I saw him as Faramir in The Lord of the Rings, but I can't draw any definite conclusions about his acting talent from one project. I know he's Australian, but beyond that I couldn't tell you anything about him. Except that he's damn sexy. He even makes a shirt with a questionable floral pattern sexy.

Second vs. Third Wave

"What? Women are supposed to stick together no matter what? Come on. I stopped believing that when I threw away my 'You've come a long way, baby' keychain."

– Christine Cagney, Cagney & Lacey

Ginger Crush: Willow Rosenberg

Oh, Willow. She went through a rocky seven years, transforming from a shy, awkward outcast into a powerful witch recovering from her villainous actions triggered by the death of her beloved. I didn't love all of the phases and trials she went through over the years (Sob! Tara! Sob!), and more than once I found myself desperately yearning to like Willow again. But I was always ready to take her back whenever she redeemed herself.

Sure, there were nerdy female characters before Willow, and plenty since, but she somehow became the ideal embodiment of the archetype. "The Willow character" has become shorthand amongst my friends to describe tech-savvy, nerdy female characters who seem like someone you could know in real life and would totally have a crush on. But Willow will always be my favorite awkwardly babbling, werewolf-dating, academic insecurity-having, rebellious banana-eating, crazy birthday cake shirt-wearing, misogynist asshole-flaying, "That was nifty!"-exclaiming, Jewish, lesbian(?) witch.

'Firefly': "Jaynestown"

I've been putting off writing about this episode. It's not that "Jaynestown" is horrible — the plot doesn't make much sense, but that just means it's on par with the rest of the series. It's no worse than "Shindig" or "Safe" and it annoys me less than "The Train Job," but I've been avoiding it because I don't care about anything that happens in this episode.

I like Jayne fine, but I think he is decidedly a supporting character. I love that I can laugh at him and that he actually serves a purpose in telling stories, but I have little interest in learning much more about him. At least not right now. I find Jayne's mercenary attitude refreshing amongst all these criminals with hearts of gold, so I really don't understand this lengthy, blatant attempt to humanize him, especially with an effort this shallow. Moments in "Serenity," "Ariel," and even "The Message" flesh out Jayne as a character better than this half-baked plot.

Immediately I'm perplexed when Zoe stays behind while Kaylee, Wash, and Simon tag along on the job. Zoe says she stays with the ship because she outranks Wash, but that's not really an answer. Why Mal wants Kaylee and Wash to help out remains a mystery: he doesn't give a reason at the top of the episode, and they spend most of their time being drunk and, in Kaylee's case, barking up the wrong tree. Kaylee, sweetie, Simon is gay. He's gay. And possibly very close to sleeping with Mal if the intense once-over – that's really more of a thrice-over – the captain gives him is any indication. (Seriously. Watch that scene on the cargo ramp. Mal gives Simon some lusty glances and checks out his ass at least three times.)
So Mal allows himself to be talked into bringing Simon along (like he needed much convincing) because Simon can pose as a buyer and distract the foreman of the mud fields. Except after alerting the foreman to their presence, they all leave and go to the bar to meet Mal's contact. Shouldn't Simon have stayed at the mud fields and, you know, actually distracted the foreman? Mal and NotKessler seem so concerned about slipping their goods past the foreman, but I think someone "magically" pulling a coin out of his ear would have distracted him sufficiently. And why can't they move Serenity so that they don't have to bring the cargo through the mud fields? It's not like they landed in a port or something. It's just a field. Surely there are other fields. And why does Mal think that he has to arrange some Jayne Day celebration the following day to distract that oh so alert foreman? The town already seems plenty distracted by Jayne's presence when Mal makes that suggestion. Plus, it's nighttime. Which means it's dark. Which provides cover for criminal activities. Mal is the WORST. THIEF. EVER. The thieving is obviously not important to the plot of this episode. We don't even know what the cargo is. So stop pretending like we should care, writers.

OK, and how did the mudders know who Jayne was and that he dropped the money on the town? I mean, not only did they know his name, which is a stretch if he just came to the moon to rob the magistrate, but they were able to make a statue that's a pretty good likeness of him. Was Jayne, like, passing out his school picture at lunchtime before he stole the money?

Book and River have an utterly inconsequential subplot that involves Book explaining that the Bible:

It's not about making sense. It's about believing in something and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It's about faith. You don't fix faith, River. It fixes you.

What? Faith is believing in something that you don't think can actually be true? Wow. Book is the WORST. PREACHER. EVER. River screaming and running away from Book's hair is too ridiculous for me to find it anything but silly. However, I do like when River says that even if Book puts his hair away, "It'll still be there...waiting." I understand, honey. I feel the same way whenever I know that Book is going to be in an episode. It makes me want to hide in the cargo bay too.

Inara has the sex in this episode, which means that she can be helpful. She uses her feminine wiles, which I think means she asked, to get Fess to release the landlock on Serenity. I don't understand how that landlock works, but I'll just leave it alone at this point. Inara also gets to deliver some nonsensical words of wisdom when she tells Fess that, "A man is just a boy who's old enough to ask [if he is a man]." Um, OK. WORST. SPACE HOOKER. EVER. No, I'm kidding. I'm sure she's a fantastic space hooker.

Choked on his own vomit

I actually had a conversation at work today about famous people who died from choking on their own vomit, which I think officially qualifies my week to be described as vomit-themed.

Tommy Dorsey

Bon Scott

John Bonham

Jimi Hendrix

I feel badly for these chaps whose cause of death is listed as "vomit inhalation" because it's kind of a funny-tragic way to go. Like Sherwood Anderson dying from peritonitis after accidentally ingesting part of a toothpick, choking on your own vomit sounds like such a stupid way to die, but I can't help but snigger a little when I hear it. I also snigger at this bit from This Is Spinal Tap.

Marty: What happened to Stumpy Joe?
Derek: Well, uh, it's not a very pleasant story..but, uh,
David: He's passed on.
Derek: He died. Uh...he choked on..the ac- the official explanation
was he choked on vomit.
Nigel: It was actually, was actually someone else's vomit.
Derek: You know they can't prove whose vomit it was...they don't
have the facilities at Scotland Yard....
Nigel: You can't really dust for vomit.

Ginger Crush: Carol Burnett

I could attempt to describe all of the reasons I love Carol Burnett – her talent, her humor, for being a trail blazer for female comedians and, indeed, all female performers – but I think this quotation demonstrates the greatness of Ms. Burnett better than I ever could:

The weirdest [question] I think I ever got was from a woman in Texas...and she said, 'If you could be a member of the opposite sex for 24 hours and then be able to pop back into being yourself, who would you be and what would you do?'

I said I'd be Osama bin Laden and I would kill myself.

James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ (1997)

I watched Titanic on TNT this weekend. I hadn’t seen the film since its release when I believe I saw it something like 4 or 5 times in the theater. What can I say? I was 14 and Leonardo DiCaprio was, like, so hot. I was looking forward to watching Titanic again with some distance from all of the hoopla surrounding its release. With anything that receives as much attention and public affection like Titanic, inevitably a reciprocal wave of disdain and criticism will follow. The shiny gloss of Leo’s pretty face has worn off a little and time and experience have made Titanic’s flaws more pronounced, but ultimately I come away from the film thinking that James Cameron crafted a good film.

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are immensely appealing as Rose and Jack, the star-crossed lovers whose romance forms the backbone of the film. Despite some of the preposterous dialogue that Cameron gives them, both Winslet and DiCaprio manage to create very human, engaging characters, whom the audience never stops caring about. They have a playful, affectionate rapport that's delightful to watch. But as much as I adore Kate Winslet, I still don't understand why she received an Oscar nod for this performance. She is excellent here, as she is excellent in all her films, but Rose DeWitt-Bukater doesn't stand out like Clementine Kruczynski, Marianne Dashwood, or even Juliet Hulme do.

Visually, of course, Titanic is stunning. Cameron did not stretch too far beyond his means in creating these special effects: these are good effects that hold up over a decade later. And of course the costumes, set and prop design are impeccable. The script…well. The script could use some help. The dialogue is…not impressive and descends into schmaltz several times. There is a lot of repetition and calling of characters’ names, which suggests that Cameron couldn’t think of anything more interesting for them to say. Cameron does an excellent job of giving the audience characters to latch onto and care about, but the romance between Rose and Jack is anything but unique. Theirs is a typical slightly unbelievable movie romance, but I’m inclined to be forgiving of Cameron’s use of a hackneyed vehicle. Everyone who sees this film knows the rather depressing ending -- the romance manages to serve as a little bit of fantasy and escape. Also, given that the audience has a “foreknowledge” of the film’s outcome, Cameron does a phenomenal job of creating dramatic tension.

Titanic represents a rather unique entry on James Cameron's resume. It's more of a romance with a heavy splash of adventure than a true action flick like True Lies, and no science fiction devices, like robots or aliens, pursue our heroes as they do in the Terminator movies, The Abyss, and Aliens. However, consider this speech Kyle Reese gives in The Terminator:

It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop...

That description of the T-1000 is easily applicable to the titular antagonists in Aliens, the strange, aquatic creature in The Abyss, and the rising, arctic water in this film. Cameron obviously loves a good ruthless villain, and here he expertly turns water into a sinister entity through the effective use of lighting in particular.

Cameron has helped create some strong female leads in the past, such as Ripley in Aliens and Sarah Conner in Terminator 2, but his last couple of leading women have been more “spunky” than empowered. Rose does survive Titanic while Jack dies, but he dies "acting like a man" and the audience is left with the distinct impression that Rose would not have survived if Jack had not been present. Well, that's probably not true. Had she never met Jack, Rose probably would have been on the lifeboat with her mother, but that would have made for a dull movie. Of course, given their backgrounds it's realistic that Jack would know more about dealing with a boat sinking into freezing water, but I don't have to like how often Rose imploringly and almost, dare I say, helplessly calls out Jack's name as the boat sinks. Rose does get her chance to save Jack when she frees him from being handcuffed to the ship, but Rose saving Jack becomes a humorous situation and it's luck that she doesn't seriously wound him instead. I'm probably being a heartless cynic, but Rose taking Jack's name to hide from Hockley after the ship sinks just bugs me. Rose rejects Hockley because he subjugated her, but by taking Jack’s name she effectively subsumes her identity under his, so I don't know if that situation is much better. Even though he's dead, Rose is only able to achieve any sense of empowerment by latching onto a man.

Originally posted 11/27/2006; updated 6/15/2009

Sydney Pollack's 'Three Days of the Condor' (1975)

Though I didn't know it when I saw the 1996 action thriller, the plot of Brian De Palma's filmic interpretation of Mission: Impossible borrows quite a bit from Three Days of the Condor. In Condor, CIA employee Joe Turner finds himself running for his life after all of his colleagues are killed while he is literally out to lunch. The head of his department tries to shoot him at the rendezvous to "bring him in" for safekeeping, so Turner wounds him and goes on the run. Turner then becomes the prime suspect for the murders of his coworkers, just like his Mission: Impossible counterpart Ethan Hunt. There's even a similar call made from a phone booth when Turner and Ethan discover that all of their colleagues have been killed.

But while Turner may work for the CIA, he's not a spy like Ethan. His job seems to consist of reading and analyzing everything that's printed, looking for leaked information about CIA operations that has been coded into the text. He served in the military, as most 30ish men in the 1970s had, but he doesn't possess any particular training in self-defense, technology, or weaponry. All his knowledge of evasive tactics has come from reading books. So where M:I is about spectacle, Condor is about strategy. And the quieter approach of the earlier film allows for more character development. Turner never intended to enter this world of assassins and spies that he finds himself in, and he doesn't have the skills to go mano a mano with the professional killer who hunts him. While he starts out all open-faced and trusting, Turner gradually hardens as he struggles to stay alive and discover why he has been targeted.

Turner hardens to the point of becoming something of an anti-hero in the middle of the film when he kidnaps a young woman named Kathy so that he can use her apartment as a safehouse. While I never thought that he wanted or intended to hurt Kathy, Turner does treat her roughly, maybe more roughly than necessary, and she is frightened by him. But then she suddenly develops Stockholm syndrome, and they sleep together. (The intercutting between the sex and Kathy's photographs makes this scene my least favorite for another reason.) To screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s credit, he attempts to make Kathy sleeping with Turner a character moment for her, but it's handled awkwardly. The conversation between Kathy and her "friend," and the fact that she never calls him her boyfriend, reveals that she has trouble following through on her commitments and maybe even has commitment issues. This set-up allows Turner's statement about his appealing to her because of his probable short future to land to a certain extent. But then Kathy goes from implying that he might still rape her, to being annoyed that Turner tied her up while he was gone, to being confronted by Turner's insight into her psyche, to sleeping with him in the span of one disjointed scene. Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway try to sell it as best they can, but I just don't buy it. I do like that the following morning both Turner and Kathy feel weird about the sex, and Kathy gets that awesome "spy fucker" line. But then she wants to help Turner and acts all cocky at her sit-down with Higgins, and it's strange again. I like Kathy, and I like Dunaway in the role, but I think her characterization is rocky.

I'm not sure if the character was significant in 1975, but I find Janice to be a refreshing portrayal of an Asian character. She doesn't speak with an accent or practice martial arts or work in a dry cleaners. Yes, her job is kind of bookish, but Janice is portrayed as stylish, attractive, and socially competent rather than nerdy. Too bad she dies.

Three Days of the Condor is a political thriller with a healthy dose of paranoia aimed at the government, making it very much a product of its era, namely the Watergate scandal. But the film has aged surprisingly well with perhaps the exception of some of Dave Grusin's score. All the spy stuff still seems plausible and not too hokey. The ending also feels vaguely prophetic of this country's current predicament, which makes Condor an engrossing watch for modern audiences despite the minor wear and tear along its edges.

'Firefly': "Our Mrs. Reynolds"

I wish that I liked this episode more because without "Our Mrs. Reynolds" there couldn't be "Trash," which is one of my favorite episodes of the series. And while this episode is definitely one of the better ones, I just can't get behind the conceit of the plot. I struggle to believe that goons who run a chop shop would go through the trouble of hiring a thief to go undercover in a colony, wait for a passing spaceship to come through, and arrange to marry someone on said ship just to get on board. It's too convoluted. Why not go to a port like Persephone and pay for passage on a ship like Simon and Book did? They wouldn't even have to stow away because the ships invite people to come aboard. Seems much easier. I would like this episode 35% more if Joss had not implied that Saffron was working for the seedy guys. Instead she could have sent Serenity toward them because she happened to know about the chop shop, which could have been accomplished by the deletion of two lines. In fact, you don't even need to have any scenes with the chop shop guys because Book explains what the sparkly Ring O' Death is, and removing their scenes would avoid this really stupid exchange:

"It's a wreck."
"No, no. This is good."
"It's parts. A lot of cheap parts we'll never unload."
"This is why you'll never be in charge, Breed. You don't see the whole. The parts are crap –"
"I said exactly that –"
"– but you put 'em together, you got a firefly."

...Yes. The parts of a firefly do make a firefly. But it's already assembled, see? You shouldn't take apart the ship and put it back together again. That's just creating a lot of extra work for yourself.

I'm also bothered by this episode because Mal is charged with giving lectures about feminism to Saffron and Jayne. Mal who regularly degrades Inara by calling her a "whore," who doesn't respect the boundaries Inara sets regarding her personal space, and whose female crew members, and just the female members, call him "sir" deferentially. I also dislike that one of his feminist tirades goes from, "She's not to be bought. Nor bartered, nor borrowed or lent," which is fine although overly didactic, to, "She's a human woman, doesn't know a damn thing about the world and needs our protection." I know it's not Joss' intention, but it reads like because Saffron is a woman she is clueless and defenseless. I'm not saying that Mal is an out-and-out chauvinist, but as I have previously noted he enforces patriarchy, so schooling Saffron on feminist thought should not be left to him. The situation also reads like women can only achieve empowerment through men or by men's permission.

The argument between Wash and Zoe is stupid. I hate that Zoe, one of the most level-headed people on the ship, suddenly becomes jealous about something petty, and that her jealousy is assuaged when Wash doesn't kiss Saffron like Mal does. ...Because faithfulness is something to be rewarded rather than expected from our partners.

Also, shut it, Book. Where's Simon and River?

Because Joss Whedon wrote this episode, some of the dialogue may be snappy, but the plotline is pretty weak. The rising action doesn't happen until 20 minutes into the episode when the chop shop is revealed (Jayne "threatening" Mal doesn't count because who actually bought that misdirection?), and the main piece of the plot doesn't start until 25 minutes in when Saffron drugs Mal. Then the end feels completely rushed when it cuts from Kaylee fixing the ship's navigation controls to finding Saffron on some planet where it's winter.

Finally, stuff I do like. I like Christina Hendricks, though I don't think she gets to be as awesome here as she does in "Trash." That welding strip she uses to seal the doors to the bridge is also neat. It's nice to see Zoe get to display more colors of emotion, and Gina Torres shows that she can do line deliveries besides deadpan. Morena Baccarin cracks me up with her "You stupid son-of-a" fall and trying (poorly) to deflect suspicion that she kissed Mal. I wish she had had more opportunities to be this silly-funny instead of her usual dry-funny because she is very entertaining.

"I'm fine. I don't need to be examined. I'm comfy."