Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tiny Movie Review: Son of Rambow

Dizzyingly odd.

Fiendishly compelling.

It's like Wes Anderson's foreign exchange student overdosed on cough syrup then had ecstatic visions of religious fundamentalism, then made a movie about his boyhood fantasies.

3/5 stars

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Is Fox Playing With Dolls?

Ian wrote an excellent post reviewing the Season 2 premier of Joss Whedon's Fox series Dollhouse. While still paling in comparison to the brilliance of Firefly and creativity of Buffy the vampire Slayer, Dollhouse has the seeds of a great series. The unaired 13th episode of the first season, "Epitaph One", especially, is a knock-out, nearly perfect television episode that launches the series ten years into the future and 10,000 brilliant degrees deeper into the shows potential trajectory. Season 2 is expected to show much of what leads up to Epitaph One.

I posted a comment on Ian's blog, and decided to re-post it here for any of you that might be Dollhouse folk. I have some issues with how the series has been going, that were still present in this Season 2 premiere. I hope it's just the dregs of Fox producers' requirements on the show that will hopefully become unnecessary as the show gets better and better: more Joss, less Fox. Here's my response to Ian.

"I also was very very pleased with the season 2 premiere. Especially, since I re-watched 'Epitaph One' right before and there were totally references to that episode (or rather, this episode foreshadowed Epitaph One's events)- particularly Topher saying "I know what I know"

What did hugely disappoint however, was the Echo/Jamie Bamber sex scene which felt totally gratuitous since we didn't know or care about those characters- just felt like awkward, un-sexy "SEXY" scenes. Would have been better if it just showed the married couple together in bed the next morning, then cut to the shot of Ballard alone on the stakeout sofa. Would have said so much more about the relationships- without the grody muscle make out scenes devoid of feeling or intelligent storytelling.

Also, I have PROBLEMS with the whole Ballard beating up Echo to trigger her into being a weapon/defending herself. I just don't think its okay or acceptable to show men brutalizing women. Culturally, its just way too loaded to have that be part of entertainment.

But those are issues that are pretty connected to the shows themes- and someone could argue that my discomfort is what was intended- but if so, those scenes are so poorly integrated compared to the rest of how the show works. Basically, those feel like the "FOX" scenes; violence and sex for entertainment, rather than as truthful storytelling. I'm not against violence and sex in film- but is it honest? These scenes felt pornographic, in the sense of being objectifying and without integrity.

Hopefully Joss will hold down the fort and keep it about character and narrative from here on, not just ex-Battlestar Gallactica actors getting down and dirty.

And Amy Acker astounded me. Utterly".

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mark My Body For Life: Only $5!

Today I went here: schedule an appontment for Friday, October 16.
Visit Tattoo Me to learn how you can help do just that.

Don't miss this exciting opportunity!!!

(You'll also get a pseudo-preview of my soon-to-be-released new blog site)

Monday, September 21, 2009

"If I Read Your Play, Will You Promise To Stop Writing Them?"

This is my third year reviewing submissions for a playwrights' residency program in NY. Every year I wait excitedly for my packet of plays to arrive in a giant manilla envelope. Then, every year my smile slackens upon reading the first line of the first play, wherein I remember that 4,999 out of every 5,000 un-represented (by agent) play submissions are horrendously un-readable. But I must read on, constrained by my commitment (and paycheck) to read every single word on every single unnecessary page. By play number four I remember why I stopped working in theater Literary departments: You thought retail was soul-killing? Try spending day after day reading people's open-hearted, dream-filled, creative offerings and thinking to yourself, "Sir/Madam, you are entirely deluded in thinking you have a career in play-writing; rarely (actually quite frequently) have I encountered a text so devoid of talent or promise."

It's only slightly less depressing than watching SAG-enforced open auditions.

But in the end, I get a little bit of cash, a little boost to my inner-critic-ego, and a nostalgic (is it truly in the past or just on pause?) return to theatre work.

Here's some quotes from my reviews:
(And no, the playwrights do not read these- just the selection committee- I'm not that mean)

"A flat and tired treatment of an unoriginal narrative, this play fails to be believable in either characterization or action."

"[The] themes fail to take shape either in character interaction or in the language/imagery of the piece. The metaphors appear but never take on meaning."

"This play appears more an exercise in dramatic theory than an expression of creative vision."

"The repetition and gestures that are the primary substance of the play appear only as attempts at avant-garde, rather than embodiment of the dramatic tension. "

"A sentimental and melodramatic story spread thin by too many dramatic questions."

"Hackneyed and derivative ex-lover scenario with tinges of detective drama a-la 'Murder She Wrote'."

Friday, September 18, 2009

"A" is for "AHA!": The Scarlet Letter as Nathaniel Hawthorne's Biggest Inside Joke

The Scarlet Letter (Modern Library Classics) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We all read it in eleventh grade. The language was dense, but we ached for Hester, hated Chillingworth and rooted for Dimmesdale. It all felt so dramatic and deep and dark, like moss on an old oak tree covering up secret messages carved long ago by two star-crossed lovers.

And then you read it as an adult.

Umm...sorry Ms. Vehar, but how did you fail to mention that this books is hilarious? I could practically hear Nathaniel Hawthorne's eyelashes swishing as he winked sarcastically from from behind every page. The faux Puritan prose is just that: faux. While Hawthorne makes grandiose statements about the severity and coldness of those old Puritan days, he is practically bruising the reader with elbow jabs to the ribs saying, "Nudge, nudge, get it? WE ARE JUST AS JUDGMENTAL AND SEVERE TODAY! HA!!"

Despite the mild bruising, I couldn't help but adorn the margins with smiley faces every time I felt my buddy Nathaniel winking at me. But for all the smiley faces, it was a surprise to realize how distant the narrator really stays from the characters. While adaptations of the story focus on the passion of the silenced lovers and imagine a rich thought life for Hester, the book rarely visits the interior worlds of the characters beyond what is symbolically represented by their, well, symbols- her daughter Pearl, the rose bushes, the gallows, meteors, the eponymous scarlet letter, etc. The narrator spends far more time alluding to foreboding symbolic omens of psychological disruption, than inviting the reader to feel what the characters feel, or even know what they are feeling. This book is anything but romantic.

Further, Dimmesdale is in no way a hero to root for. From my reading, Hawthone thinks him the worst kind of cowardly narcissist there is. For all of Dimmesdale's self-imposed chastisement and loathing, he goes about his life feeling rather proud of his status as secret horrible sinner, whereas Hester bears the public shame and maintains her integrity. Dimmesdale's death (oops, spoiler) is his final pathetic act of grandiosity- he begs for Hester to give him her strength, but still chooses the easy way out as a martyr for his own sinfulness. He avoids the real risk, following Hester into a life beyond Salem's black & white punitive moral justice. He disintegrates into the non-person he is, rather than choosing to live honestly as an imperfect man.

I enjoyed my revisit to The Scarlet Letter, especially considering it had been twelve years since I'd read it. It's a short read, and if you can read it as satire, not morose allegory, it really shines with brilliant psychological insights. And no matter how unlikable I found her to be, Hester really is an amazing female character. Hawthorne supposedly based her largely on Margaret Fuller, a woman whom nearly all those transcendentalist fellows were head over heals for. She marched to her own drum, choosing lovers often over marriage, and career over domestic security. It must have been pretty shocking in 1850 to read about the choices Hester Prynne makes, and I bet a lot of Hawthorne's ironical winks and nudges would not have been as humorous if you were the party being implicated. But for 2009, it's an enlightening and entertaining read.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Like Muriel Rukeyser's poem...

...which asks,

"What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open,"

this video exemplifies my belief which posits,

"What would happen if one guy danced with all his might?
The world would come running."

I think its as important for men to feel free to dance as it is for women to feel free to speak. Say no to shame, yes to freedom, (and boogie).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Make Way For Segues!

Oh Seattle, the odd caravans that traverse your sidewalks.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dialogical Film Club: Part 1, Wherein 6 adults spend 4 hours watching "Twilight"

In late April 2009, I was at a local pub surrounded by friends who had just graduated (leaving me behind to complete my 4 year degree sans all my 3rd year degree friends). Three of us started discussing the recent Twilight film: who'd seen it, who hadn't, and why. Within about 20 minutes a spontaneous group of six had formed, deciding that we needed to watch Twilight together so we could talk through it and by doing so, perhaps survive it. Knowing that if we didn't pick a date right then, that it would never happen, we decided on a Monday three weeks in the future.

Setting the date so far ahead brought a certain formality and sense of expectation to the movie watching night. 3 weeks away meant the need for email reminders, confirmation emails, plans about food and drink, and how we would obtain a copy of Twlight. It was in one of these emails that I celebratorily, yet causaully, referred to us as the "Dialogical Film Club". Dialogical, because we would be dialoguing through the movie; pressing pause whenever someone had an observation or question. This is how I always watch movies, but the group setting formalized it. The body of the email read:

"We six shall gather to experience the glory and depravity that is the film 'Twilight" We will lose ourselves, find ourselves, hit the pause button and work out the sado-masochism and erotic violence that is the film Twilight. It will be transcendent. We will giggle and so "oh my gosh" a lot."

And we did. We spent four hours watching a two hour movie. It was incredible In fact, it was because of this friend-movie-gathering, that I arrived at my Integrative Thesis Project topic for the next academic year. One of our main take-aways from the film had to do with the portrayal of male protector and silenced woman. It was also the DFC (as we have now come to know ourselves) who first began referencing similarites of the narrative's ethos to the complementatian values of New Calvinism. Then, during a phone conversation the following Thursday (Stacy had told Kim George about our Twilight night, then Kim called me with some Twilight questions for a course she was teaching on sexual violence in the media) it all coalesced in my brain and I said (outloud to Kim) "I think this is what I'm going to spend the next year working on."

So besides coming up with a thesis topic (which, by the way, is tentatively titled "Why are you apologizing for bleeding?": Twilight, New Calvinism and the Evangelical Embrace of Sadomasochistic Narrative) that Monday spawned a whole summer of marvelous Mondays. This happened because Jeremy said we should do it again, then Holly said "How about in four weeks?" and it was settled. Jeremy also proposed that following our first offering, it would be interesting to choose films that are hugely popular for some reason, and watch them to discuss the cultural trends/values/beliefs being consumed/propagated.

We liked that idea. To be continued...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reading the Worst the Bible Has to Offer

Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Overtures to Biblical Theology) Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives by Phyllis Trible

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While Trible's literary/rhetorical criticism asks a lot of an ancient, multi-sourced text, the endeavor is still humbling in scope and purpose. Published over 25 years ago now, Texts of Terror is still a shining example of feminist Biblical criticism, as well a work of deep faith, hope and compassion. Trible takes four of the most disturbing Biblical examples of sexual violence against women and exegetes them with a Christological lens. Buried under the violence, subjugation and silencing, Trible unearths the following women:

Hagar: Egyptian Slave Woman
She was wounded for our transgressions; she was bruised for our iniquities
Genesis 16;1-16; 21:9-21

Tamar: Princess of Judah
A woman of sorrows and acquainted with grief
2 Samuel 13:1-22

An Unnamed Woman: Concubine from Bethlehem
Her body was broken and given to many
Judges 19:1-30

The Daughter of Jephthah: Virgin in Gilead
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken her?
Judges 11:29-40

By reading these texts closely and attending to the subject/object of grammar and the often chiasmic nature of the syntax, Trible finds the people and poetry under the stories, and through them, a glimpse of redemption for these texts of terror as they reveal the brokenness of human violence paired with solidarity in Christ's suffering and sacrifice.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Why Edna Stays on My Desk At All Times

Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Edna St. Vincent Millay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Spring and the Fall

In the spring of the year, in the spring of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The trees were black where the bark was wet.
I see them yet, in the spring of the year.
He broke me a bough of the blossoming peach
That was out of the way and hard to reach.

In the fall of the year, in the fall of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The rooks went up with a raucous trill.
I hear them still, in the fall of the year.
He laughed at all I dared to praise,
And broke my heart, in little ways.

Year be springing or year be falling,
The bark will drip and the birds be calling.
There's much that's fine to see and hear
In the spring of a year, in the fall of a year.
'Tis not love's going hurt my days.
But that it went in little ways.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Almost October Haiku

Woke up, stayed in bed
haiku-ing about being
thirty and single.