Friday, December 25, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
One of my professors led a seminar this Spring on race and theology that I hated to miss, including wonderful pieces by Cornel West, Spike Lee, Toni Morrison, bell hooks and others. And while there can be no substitute for critical, clear thinking, once again, I'm convinced that the comedic can be a great way to disarm people into talking honestly about that which scares us to death to talk about most of the time.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
To this end, a little brief, historical comparison...
Let's go medieval for a moment, with A KNIGHT'S TALE. Having re-watched this with the folks recently, I was struck by the ways in which, once again, this is a tale of forbidden love--a humble thatcher masquerading as a knight to gain the love of the royal maiden. Heath Ledger does a good job portraying William Thatcher, the knight-to-be, to Shanynn Sossaman's lady. BTW, whatever happened to her?
Anyway, the tension in this one exists because of societal boundaries: there's a fairly rigid 'caste' system of sorts, codified because of divine right of kings and centuries of tradition, such that people are what they are. However, in Chaucer's day, these rules are breaking down; knights are rising up to nobility; merchants are moving up into a new middle-class; royalty are no longer respected as royalty if they're total pricks. But the point is this: what makes the love between Heath and Shanynn 'forbidden' is a global device, a societal vision which is, in a sense, totalizing. There is no other Europe other than the one they live in, and so, if you're going to fall in love, you have to fall in love according to the rules of Europe, which means "no love across class lines".
Heath and Shanynn, thus, have to pursue their love, not in spite of the rules of society, but deceptively through the rules of society. Their love comes to completion only as Ledger ascends to knighthood and joins the ranks of nobility, and some sense, making their love no longer forbidden.
Fast forward a couple of centuries past Chaucer, and we come to the Grand Maul Seizure of forbidden love: ROMEO AND JULIET. Say what you want about the 1968 Zefirelli version; I thought the Baz Luhrman version with DiCaprio and Danes was phenomenal. But in any event, let's examine what it means here for love to be 'forbidden'.
The emphasis of R&J is on the family role of 'forbidden love'. These star-crossed lovers are kept apart, not by societal lines, as this is the 16th century; societal boundaries are really fluid; monarchies are dying off left and right, and the middle-classes are making their case to be the new nobilities. See Shakespeare's OTHELLO for the ultimate example of societal movement during this time. In R&J, what keeps the lovers apart is not societal regulation, but family regulation. In the absence of a firm, uniform world as in the Middle Ages, families become the new boundaries within which 'forbiddenness' can be established, more or less. In any other circumstances, barring the names of 'Montague' and 'Capulet', we have a comedy, but because of the regulation of love by family contraints, this one turns into tragedy.
Granted, 'family' depends in part on where in society they fall. Had Romeo, for example, been a commoner, Juliet's family would have objected for other reasons; thus, Paris is the perfect match in their eyes for Juliet, as he's the bachelor-of-the-month (played by a young Paul Rudd in Luhrman's version). But what I want to point out here is that the guiding rubric for 'forbidenness' is that of the family; the family has imbibed their understanding of acceptable love from society, to be sure, but as far as who adjudicates the boundaries of right love--this falls to the family and not society at large.
Moving on to the modern-day CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, one of the understated gems of the early 90s, we find the endgame of 'forbiddenness': the forbidden love posited by and against one's self. Whereas in KNIGHT'S TALE and ROMEO AND JULIET, love is forbidden by forces or persons external to the individual, by modern-day, the rules for true or forbidden are posited by the individual themselves, apart from family or societal considerations. Notice, for example, that you never see the main character's families in CHW....
God bless Jennifer Love Hewitt. In this film, both positively and negatively, the 'right' love is that which is given the character by themselves: Amanda, despite her societal standing, rejects the tool Mike Dexter in search of the real deal; Preston Meyers decides that Kurt Vonnegut is awesome literature and pursues the dream girl that he knows is the true love of his life, Amanda Beckett. The two are drawn together in spite of who? Not society, which they defy, nor in spite of families, which do not exist in this film, but in spite of themselves. Both Amanda and Preston struggle to hold faith to an ideal which exists outside their vision, and to deny the tendency to choose that which is before them, in pursuit of that which is beyond them. In other words, their greatest fight is the one that they have with themselves, to pursue love which they know is ridiculous, but which they desire anyway. Maybe a better example of this would be the Seth Green scenario in which he winds up with his ultimate nemesis, the wankster falling in love with the literature nerd, two souls finding each other, despite themselves.
I submit that NEW MOON is of this last kind, the great postmodern forbidden love story, in which the true oppressor is not society, not family, but ourselves. Granted, the stakes are slightly higher here: should love conquer the self, somebody's getting a brand new set of glittery skin for Christmas. But in the end, the lovers in NEW MOON have only themselves to answer to and to overcome in order to achieve their 'forbidden love'.
Monday, December 7, 2009
“Here, here will I remain with worms that are thy chamber-maids; O, here will I set up my everlasting rest; and shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from this world-wearied flesh.”
There’s a reason Shakespeare has endured the ever-changing map of humanity. The man (or men, depending on whichever conspiracy theory you subscribe to) could write. His mastery of words painted pictures so beautiful, that he invoked emotions the heart knew not it had. His plays have been recreated on stage and screen; either left alone or twisted and transformed to adapt to the current state of society.
Those words above came from his decidedly most famous play, “Romeo and Juliet.” It was said by author, Stephenie Meyer, that the play had inspired the second novel in her best-selling The Twilight Saga series, NEW MOON.
Let’s just start there—Saga. The word means any narrative or legend of heroic exploits.
Against two warring families and age-old mutinies, two teenagers found love, lost loved ones and each other, and yet despite all their obstacles, not even death could keep them apart.
It’s brazen, at best, to compare NEW MOON to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Despite the lack of heroics, what’s really at loss? The soul? The humanity? Fortunately both were safe since I didn’t see either in this movie. What I did see was young Hollywood’s attempt to be taken seriously and falling far from the mark.
But they cannot solely be to blame. Some, if not a lot, of the fault lies within the pages of the books themselves. Let me say this. I was a faithful follower, preaching the gospel of TWILIGHT to any who would listen. Passing the books around, I might as well have been wearing a white, short-sleeved button up dress shirt with a black tie, riding a bike from house to house. The first movie cured me of this madness. The second was like trying to smoke a cigarette after years of having quit—it just made me gag and left a terrible taste in my mouth.
My friend, Aubrey, and I decided to make a day of our NEW MOON watching experience. We took a half-day at work, had lunch at this great burger joint called Twisted Root, where you’re given a character’s name to pick up your order. She was Cindy Lauper. I was given Bella Swan. It was kismet.
The matinee of NEW MOON could otherwise be known as the Walk of Shame showing. The patrons were all older, there were a few couples. Even in the darkened theater, you could see the guilt on their faces. We staked our seats in the middle, propped up our feet on the chairs in front, and huddled in for worst.
Simply the opening had me rolling my eyes. Aubrey and I giggled, snickered and snorted (well, I snorted) through most of the movie. On more than one occasion, I felt the urge to call an ambulance for Kristen Stewart’s eye-fluttering, nostril-flaring, heavy-breathing, epileptic histrionics. While this story is supposed to be about pure, passionate love, if someone looked at me with the twisted, constipated face Robert Pattinson’s Edward looks upon Bella, I wouldn’t shed a tear to see him walk away.
And then there’s Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black—well, at least he made eye contact while delivering his lines.
The scenes of tortured dreams Bella suffers after Edward’s leaving apparently translated into sounds of actual torture on the screen, with Stewart sounding more like she was in labor, then love’s labour’s lost. And somewhere in all of this, was the complete lack of emotion. The “Ouch. Paper cut” acting depicting a tale that has prompted a maelstrom of emotion from its readers, to the point where women tattoo the words on their bodies, girlfriends dump their boyfriends, and people are divided into “teams,” and yet the characters move from scene to scene with little more than a blip on the emotional radar.
This has already been said, but it’s one of the few things worth noting about the movie. The Volturi were the lone beacon in this dark, moonless night. Michael Sheen is mesmerizing. His very small amount of time on screen is the only break you receive where you can actually get lost in the story, where you forget you’re watching a bunch of twenty-somethings play make-believe. Dakota Fanning, with few lines but much more spoken in the simple expressions on her face, restored faith in the future of Hollywood and entertainment. You watch her and sigh, thinking, “Thank God, she will endure.”
The movie ended with Aubrey and me standing up and nearly bolting for the exit. We usually linger awhile in our seats, enjoying the music of the end credits, letting the whole experience sink in before we leave the movie world and re-enter reality.
I honestly don’t know what it is about the books that has made them literary crack. The characters are flawed, and not in a way that makes them endearing or relatable. Bella is boring, somewhat psychotic, and completely submissive. Edward is possessive, controlling, and melodramatic. Jacob is manipulative and inconsiderate. The story’s been done before—even Meyer’s admitted the books that inspired her. There’s no real sacrifice. Should our hearts break for Bella because her high school boyfriend dumped her? And yet we couldn’t get enough of the books. We couldn’t, until we saw the movies.
I give NEW MOON 1 Kristen Stewart lower lip bite out of 5. NEW MOON is the girl you pick up in a bar you thought was hot—you get hammered and go home with the book; you wake up sober with the movie.
Friday, December 4, 2009
i'm with myles: judd apatow delivers the hits. and, ironically, even though his movies have the expected apatow crassness and blushing humor, they also tackle unique struggles in my generation's need for maturity. 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN taunted our obsession with sexuality. SUPERBAD grabbed high school by the poop-mouth dirty tongue and jangled our notions of identity. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS smoked our dependencies on medication while also defining solid friendships. and TALLEDEGA NIGHTS (which apatow produced) reminded us that applebee's is a 5 star joint if you live a 2 star existence.
it's easy to dismiss apatow's movies as nothing more than filthy bathroom and boy humor, never realizing that, despite the necessary hollywood hyperboles that overgeneralize gender and age stereotypes in apatow's films, the man has diligently catalouged a faithful history of our current generation. it's as if apatow picked up where john hughes left off, fast forwarding suburban white culture from the 80s and turning the camera on us again in the new millenium. in that sense, we could feasibly celebrate both filmmakers for their anthropological achievements alone.
not to mention the ways hughes and apatow both taught me to cuss and banter better.
with that said, KNOCKED-UP, in my opinion, is the crowning jewel of the apatow canon. as myles already beautifully stated, everything that apatow does well finds it's apex in KNOCKED-UP. the overly exaggerated boy humor and girl fretting. the blinding addiction to self. the adult bodies trapped in middle school mindsets. the larger than life crisis that forces everyone in the film to re-evaluate their own lives and their need for others. these are signature apatow moves just as much, if not more, than the autoerotic jokes and dookie references.
i do think KNOCKED UP is the funniest film in the bunch, far exceeding some of the cheaper laughs in SUPERBAD (i also peed a little in that one) and the dirty-for-dirtiness sake of 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN ("you know how i know you're gay?"); however, it's the film's heart and tenderness that stood out most to me.
for instance, i was completely taken off guard when we learn that pete's (paul rudd) actual infidelity with debbie (leslie mann) was a fantasy baseball league and solitary film nights. after the film, i told latonya that i believe the wayward desire in most married men is not for a bimbo as much as for a little return on that long lost bachelor freedom. in the film, pete did love his wife. he loved his kids. but there was that aching wanderlust that needed other men and some solitude from time to time. of course, the message here is that pete and debbie had dissolved into a place where pete's request for such personal time would translate to debbie as a call for divorce. we see this in her immediate assumption that pete's having an affair. debbie jumped to the conclusion that pete no longer wanted her, not even considering for a moment that maybe pete just wanted a bit more pete. i thought this scene was brilliant, and i tip my hat to apatow for not relying on the typical man-wants-other-woman scenario. it's moments like this (and there were several in KNOCKED UP) that illustrate apatow's ability to abuse and transcend his own signature stereotypes.
all in all, this is a great film. it's funny and warm and, like the great john hughes' films of yore, it reminds us that we all have a little growing up to do. as with myles, i cannot recommend KNOCKED UP highly enough. it definitely deserves 5 googled murder searches out of 5.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
So, what is it about Apatow's films that proves to be such a draw? Let's run down a few suspects.
1) DUDE COMEDY--I don't remember the last time I sat around making a joke about pubic hair or bongs. But I've got more than enough stories about getting stepped on in the middle of the night or getting hit in the unmentionables. I in no way resonate with any of Seth Rogen's friends, except that I've lived in my share of crappy houses with way too many guys, and confused a framed poster with high art on occasion. Case in point: I have a seven foot U2 Rattle and Hum poster sitting in the front foyer with absolutely no place to put it in our apartment. But I can't bear the thought of just throwing it out.
2) PREGNANCY--Like I said, not trying to make a statement here. But like a friend of mine points out, babies are God's reminders that life is not controllable, that life gets through the cracks in our plans and poops on our shoes. I love the aspect of this movie which is an unseen actress who is the catalyst for all kinds of plot changes. Consider the fact that the baby is the one steering the ship of the entire plot, and we only see her in the last four minutes.
3) GUY GETS GIRL WAY OUT OF HIS LEAGUE--THIS I can resonate with, and I'll speak for the other bloggers here, that this is nearly categorically true. All men wind up with women who are way too good for them, and far prettier than us.
4) GOOFBALL TURNS INTO A GOOD GUY--Again, I resonate with this. One of the things I love about this film is that you have true moral development. Seth Rogen becomes a better person. He starts reading the baby books; he takes responsibility for his life and for other lives; he rises to the occasion. Does he still make awesome one-liners about bongs? Yes. Does he still deliever epithets about the gynecologist that make me rewind giggling? Yes. And in it all, he rises to the occasion.
This is a slam dunk. I can't recommend this movie enough except to give it 5 furry stuffed animals out of 5. It's tremendous.