Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dollhouse, or How Joss will Grace TV with his presence soon!

Courtesy of Ms Kristin over at E! Online, Mr Joss Whedon has made public news the development of an original show for FOX called Dollhouse featuring none other than Ms Eliza Dushku, of Buffy, Angel, Tru Calling and Bring it On fame.

As described in Krsitin's article:

Echo (Eliza Dushku) [is] a young woman who is literally everybody's fantasy. She is one of a group of men and women who can be imprinted with personality packages, including memories, skills, language—even muscle memory—for different assignments. The assignments can be romantic, adventurous, outlandish, uplifting, sexual and/or very illegal. When not imprinted with a personality package, Echo and the others are basically mind-wiped, living like children in a futuristic dorm/lab dubbed the Dollhouse, with no memory of their assignments—or of much else. The show revolves around the childlike Echo's burgeoning self-awareness, and her desire to know who she was before, a desire that begins to seep into her various imprinted personalities and puts her in danger both in the field and in the closely monitored confines of the Dollhouse.

And from an excerpt of the hilarious Kristin-Joss interview:

In your own words, how would you describe Dollhouse?
The idea is those with the money or connections can access this secret highly illegal facility where they can basically fulfill their greatest fantasies. Most people assume that means sex—and on an occasion it does, because that is a lot of people's fantasies—but it's basically scenarios. They can basically reenact scenarios of romance, adventure or anything perfectly, because they become the person that you want them to be—they become that person. They don't act like that person, they are not a robot pretending, they become that person, and then they forget all about it. The problem is the character of Echo, Eliza Dushku's character, stops forgetting. She doesn't completely remember, but she does realize she is a person, and that she might have been a person before she did this, and she doesn't know what that is.

Needless to say, I CAN'T WAIT! Which I might have to do given the current WGA situation...
In the mean time, Buffy Season 8 Tradepaperback, collecting Joss's first 5 issues hit stands yesterday so anyone looking for some Joss wit should check those out, and if you haven't, do visit DHP and check out Sugarshock - his newest comic book creation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Nip/Tuck, or How the Doctors are IN

Nip/Tuck (FX)

The first scene in nip/tuck's season 5 premiere episode consists of shots of lights being turned on. Not only are Dr Troy and Dr McNamara being welcomed to the spotlight that is Los Angeles, but they're also turning the heat on (can we have gratuitous Julian McMahon nudity every episode, please?)
Premise: The move from Miami to Los Angeles turns out to be more trouble than either of our metrosexual, homosocially bonded himbo-plastic surgeons ever anticipated - watch them deal with their problems as they hire a publicist, become consultants on a trashy ER/Greys/Chicago Hope retread that looks oddly like nip/tuck (self-aware IS in, see here and here for more on that) and introduce an obscene amount of new (and soon to be returning) guest stars (Tia Carrere as a dominatrix? Bradley Cooper as an arrogant actor diva? Jennifer Coolidge as a mediocre actress? Oliver Platt as a flamboyant producer? Yes to all of the above).
Overall it was a pretty good episode. A much better start than what we have come to expect from the last couple of seasons where storylines were getting out of hand and characters were taking weird and unwelcome turns (who else is glad Julia is now miles and miles away?) I enjoyed the fact that the show is getting back to its roots: the slightly homoerotic (okay, okay... homosocial) relationship between Sean and Christian and yet they are shaking things up. What we saw in this episode is the move from seeing Christian as a main 'player' to him being relegated to a supporting role for the now more successful and in demand Dr Sean. If the end of the episode is any indication of where the season is going, this change in direction will create a good tension between the doctors that will prove fruitful for both characters and give the audience a good season ahead.
All in all, the show's move to LA did wonders for the characters (who knew what this show needed was a facelift of its own?) - of course the doctors were scrumptious as ever and as usual any show that is as obsessed with the male body as nip/tuck is, is welcome in my weekly tv watching routine.

Favourite line of the show: "I feel like I'm selling semen at a whorehouse"

Monday, October 29, 2007

How I Met Your Mother, or How Alyson Hannigan is a Good Whedon-Alum

So not only has Alyson Hannigan been gracing us with her presence in CBS's How I Met Your Mother as kindergarten teacher Lily, but she has been doing so with STYLE! (Long gone is the mousy Willow of yore/season1 of HIMYM) Every season Ally finds ways of looking hotter and more stylish and we have to wonder: how much of the costume/makeup/hair budget is allocated to Ally alone? And yet we don't care because we also thank Ally for keeping the Whedonverse in business (Morena Baccarin, Amy Acker, Tom Lenk, and even her beau Alexis Denisof have all been featured in Ally's show).

Thankfully, Hannigan is not only a good Whedon alum when finding co-stars from other Whedon shows; being a good Whedon alum means upholding Whedonesque skills and Ally does this very well. And what is Whedonesque skill #1? Self-awareness.
So just as we were wondering how Ally looks so stunning every episode, and manages to afford great haircuts, gorgeous boots and designer clothing Bob Saget's Ted introduced us to "the question Aunt Lily had been dreading for years":

"Lily, how do you afford all of these things?" courtesy of Robin

And so, the 'awesome!' sitcom that is HIMYM went full-drive into Self-Aware territory - and thankfully not into Grey's Anatomy Soundtrack Self-Aware, but into Whedon Self-Awareness, y'know? The good kind, with a story around how kindergarten Lily shops til she drops and racks up credit card debt - featuring that very funny dream sequence with Lily/Ally and her boots - which I still believe are Ally's real boots. I can't help but wonder if this will be Lily's story this season. I guess we'll have to keep watching to find out!

Triple Threat or How Atonement's Brionys are Brilliant!

The upcoming Joe Wright film Atonement (already screening in the UK but not set for American release til later this year) is based on Ian McEwan's novel and its literariness is not lost on screen. Dario Marianelli's score, for example keeps puncturing the film with the hard noise of a typewriter as if not wanting to let the audience forget that this is a movie, not just based on a book, but forcefully moving towards the creation of a book: Briony's novel.
Beautifully shot, Atonement never strays away from its fixation on writing - as James McAvoy's Robbie learns all too well, typing one four-letter word is enough to unravel the series of events that land him a false accusation and send him to fight in the war. Wright opens the film with one of the best first acts I have seen in film in a long time - the initial flirting between Kiera Knightley's Cecilia and Robbie is played out beautifully and climaxes in a very sensual scene in - where else? - a library. Pacing itself, the movie sets up the class distinction, the muted 'crime' and the romance in a way that the moment Briony accuses Robbie - in a moment of hesitation, revenge and bewilderment causes the movie to lose its focus for a bit. Formally of course, one can argue that the move from the estate to the trenches requires the film to lose balance and only slowly recover it.
Once we move into the war - and into a different type of writing: the epistolary form (following Robbie and Cecilia's letters) Wright's film starts meandering and as if knowing that the subject matter of the second act is lagging, he overcompensates with beautifully shot realistic scenes of the war: in particular I am thinking of the long take that follows McAvoy as he surveys the armed camp at Dunkirk as the soldiers of the Allied forces await their leave. Expertly crafted and reminding me of the choreographed shots in last year's Children of Men, Wright's take situates us spatially and emotionally in the grime of a world that was the war. And yet, I did not enjoy this part mainly because the film loses its main attraction for most of the war-centered plot: Briony.
It is not until we get the dubious re-encounter and the concluding narration that the movie returns to its original beat and builds to what is (for those of us who hadn't read McEwan's novel) arguably an unexpected ending that, wisely so, returns to writing to expose its centrality to the film.
Briony is by far McEwan's most interesting character in Atonement, and in the hands of Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave it becomes the keystone of the film: McAvoy and Knightley might be the selling point of the film (and the advertising campaign has definitely capitalised on their A-star status) and indeed the romance will be the aspect of the film most audience-members will cling to, but it is Briony who captured my attention. This is not to say that Knightley (better in this than in anything I had seen her before) and McAvoy (sizzling and talented as always) don't carry the film, but it is in the complex vision of the world of Briony that the film carries its force: from the childish (mis)understanding, to the nursing grief and all the way into retrospective guilt, Ronan, Garai and Redgrave create at once a cruel child, a numb nurse and a broken (though equally strong) woman.
Briony - maybe because she is the ultimate writer of the piece is the character that really made me fall in love with this movie. And in a film that configures itself as the living, breathing testament of her 'atonement' I strongly believe that not sympathizing with Briony (especially after seeing Redgrave command your attention with what seems like an unrehearsed monologue that showcases her strong performance) is a fault. Just for the triple threat of Briony, Wright's film is a must-see - once it opens here of course.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Britney's Toy Soldier, or How This is an Animated Mash-up waiting to happen

Picking up on POP COLONY's suggestion that Michel Gondry needs to direct Brit's new video, I want to suggest that Brit herself has taken a step towards creating an animated mash-up if/when she releases Toy Soldier as a single. (I think Brit should really embrace animation - I mean, it's a way to avoid having to actually perform, look good or even show up: a manager's dream, n'est-ce pas?)
Can't you see it now?
Steven Spielberg presents

a Pixar Animations Studios production

Directed by Mr Gondry:
This time I need a Soldier
A really bad ass soldier
That know how to take, take care of me
I'm so damn glad that's over
This time I need a soldier
I'm sick of toy soldiers
A boy that knows how to take care of me
Won't be just coming over

Saturday, October 27, 2007

AleXY, or How Queer is MODE? Pt 2 Alex/is Meade

How Queer is Ugly Betty? The obvious answer is 'very much so!' - I mean, a soap opera comedy about a fashion magazine? It screams homo, doesn't it? And indeed, as we saw with Marc St James that Ugly Betty actually embraces the stereotypical gay, now how does it fare with the "T" in LGBTQQ(etc) acronym?

Alex/is Meade - the trans character
If Marc is the stock gay character we see 'everyday' what is Rebecca Romjin's Alex/is Meade? I am a firm believer that the first half of Season1 of Ugly Betty toyed around with the mysterious lady until they decided that they were going to make her the long lost (other) Meade brother... ahem... sister. Yes, I do have to give Salma and her peeps props for presenting a trans character in primetime tv (and such a pretty one too - far from another trans character that made a splash only two years ago - Felicity Huffman in Transamerica). Yes, waltzing in to MODE Magazine, Rebecca's Alexis was a confident, driven MTF. One only had to wait a couple of episodes to see how inadequate the character would prove to be when it came to smart and P.C. writing.
Take for example this season's turn of events: after suffering from some sort of amnesia, Alexis woke up as Alex (ie. with no memory of having gone through the sex-change operation). Interestingly, instead of working through Alex's initial trials and tribulations of wanting to undergo sex-change operation (which we were told is what split the happy Father-Alexis relationship) the writers decided to play Alex/is as a "man trapped in a woman's body" - a man who loves the fact that he has breasts now, enjoys football and doesn't know how to walk in heels or wear makeup and seems unaware of the fact that he wanted to become a woman to begin with.
It works for comedy but it also flattens the character a bit. I will say that the whole 'Dawson plays it hip and wants to screw over Mode over being a prejudicial prick' at least tries to make up for it. So, while the writing for the character (just like any other character in the show, actually) works as a caricature and better as a gag than as a politically correct 'representation' I do commend ABC and Salma&co for wanting to give exposure to minorities on tv (when has one show showcased such a cultural/racial/sexual diverse cast I wonder?).

Check out:

How Queer is MODE? Pt 1 Marc St James
and rounding up the special pieces on MODE: How Queer is MODE? Pt 3 Justin Suarez

Friday, October 26, 2007

Triple Threat, or How I enjoy "K" theatre

As I was watching Disney's/Julie Taymor's The Lion King I started to think of other moments in my life as a theatre-goer that have grabbed me to the extent that Taymor's reimagining of the classic Hamletian Disney movie. I mean, the puppets, the lighting, the staging, the music - everything in the production was designed to overload its audience with the full power of a theatre-going experience. Its merits need not be reproduced here (though I will say that the 'seeing Mufasa's reflection' scene and the stampede scene - two, in my mind, unstageable scenes were the highlight of what is arguably a flawless production) but I will reiterate how big a fan of Ms Taymor (with Titus, Frida, Across the Universe and this she keeps proving that she's versatile, original and always pushing boundaries - here's to see what she'll come up with next... er okay, maybe I'll wait and see how that Spiderman Musical turns out)
Looking back, I can only isolate two other productions that have come close to giving me such chills and made me at once notice and revel in the theatrical conventions presented in said productions; productions that wear their means of staging and 'construction' on their sleeves and still manage to succeed in creating an illusion in it audience that propels the story forward in a way that doesn't feel or look too 'gimmicky':

Ka - (seen December 2006)
Cirque du Soleil
MGM Grand in Las Vegas
Great Cirque du Soleil production which didn't just rely on the beautifully choreographed acrobatics that one is used to seeing from the Cirque, but through them told the story of twin brother and sister being torn and apart and reunited after years of estrangement.

K. - (seen in January 2004)
Kaleidoscope Theatre, Rumble Productions and UBC Theatre
Frederic Wood Theatre at UBC
Visual and aural theatre pushed to the limit in this existential exploration of Kafka in his last living hours - surrounded by doctors, hallucinations, video projections and a looming filing closet as a backdrop. One of the most kinetic productions of any kind I have ever attended.

It logically follows that I can safely say I tend to enjoy (and find theatrical as well as artistic value) in Theatrical productions that have the letter "K" in them.
This is where I would dispel should arbitrary classification, and then I remembered I am anticipating a similar theatre-going experience when I go and watch WicKed (sometime in the next couple of months) - and so the K theory continues...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bionic Woman Vancouver style, or How I am Seeing Double

After several underwhelming episodes, I was glad to see a good Bionic Woman episode that didn't require Ms Sackhoff to come and pick up the slack. Sadly, it made me realise that I was enjoying it not just because of the dialogue (which was inspired: "I feel like Felicity. Only Felicity wasn't a scientist, and she wasn't British, and she went to University to chase a guy, which I didn't - so I don't know why I said that. Okay, you talk.") or the story (which was interesting) but because

a. Jordan Bridges was in it. As if hearing what POP COLONY had to say about its hottie drought they brought on Jordan to fill that gap and it was more than welcome.
b.Michelle Ryan was speaking in British for more than half the episode ("I am an exchange student from Eastenders... ahem. I mean Oxford") and
c. It was like a UBC recruiting brochure come to life, I swear more than 2/3 of the episode were filmed at my lovely Alma Mater. Top 8 places I could identify right away while watching Bionic this week:

8. Walkway near the Freddy Wood Theatre
7. Main Mall (with Flag Pole sans Canadian flag in full view)
6. New Science Buildings (or was it the Forestry Building?)
5. UBC rooftops (very Tru Calling-esque, actually)
4. Koerner Plaza
3. Koerner's Pub (epitomizing Jamie's University experience)
2. Cecil Green House (hosting a student "house party"?)
1. Chan Centre for Performing Arts - where I graduated actually(hosting some sort of 'market'?)
We'll see if it keeps picking up - Katee's gonna be in the next episode (I think) so that's promising.

After Sex? or How Writing since Queer Theory is Theorized Queerly Pt 2

After Sex? On Writing since Queer Theory
SAQ Special Edition
Ed. Janet Halley & Andrew Parker

Blogging about an academic symposium - it seems like an attack on everything I get taught in grad school, but I do feel that the more interesting part of a panel like this are the interactions and the personal reactions from the audience (consider it [retroactive] liveblogging in an academic setting).
Check out part one here.
Jeff Nunokawa
When you begin an address with "Let's not fight" you have to wonder whether that's what Jeff wanted to do once it was his turn to talk - mainly because you could sense his (albeit playful and always purely academic) irritation at Lee and Joe's project and their conception of the big "QT" - queer theory. After parenthetically praising ("J'adore!") the wikipedia buzzword "disambiguation" Jeff proceeded to disambiguate both 'history' and 'nostalgia' as they were being discussed. If, as Jeff would have us think there are indeed many histories of Queer Theory, he made it very clear it was the one rooted in the late 80s and early 90s, with the looming fear of AIDS, the solidarity found in ACT UP and seminal academic texts (Gender Trouble, Epistemology of the Closet) the one he wished we would embrace. Campy as his tirade against Bersani (who can be "brilliantly nasty"), Lee and those who try and understand and perpetuate a vision of queer theory 'up here' (waving his hands in the air) where issues of (capital letter) Time and (capital letter) History make him think of Heidegger was, Jeff was nonetheless well received (at least by the vocal members of the audience) when he tried to think of Queer Theory as a historical and cultural moment in time even if to do so he had to 'crave the indulgence of quoting himself.'
[ed note: what was probably more interesting - for me at least - was not Jeff's speech but the hilarious, though arguably subtle and ambiguous reactions from fellow panel members who will remain unnamed - a demure smile, a bemused look, a quick scribble - priceless]

Kate Thomas
What a pleasant surprise Kate Thomas was. From the initial "I took the 'after' as post - but for me post refers to both postal office and posthumous" I knew it was going to be a good talk (anyone who can say "the promiscuity of the postal bag" in an academic setting is welcome in my books). Though I am a firm believer that everything sounds sexier in a British accent, what I think made Kate's presentation a perfect way to end the panel presentations was the way in which quite seamlessly she had managed to produce a piece that at once spoke about her interests (queer temporality, postal), her work and her field (I'm looking up Michael Field stuff as I type) but also framed the conversation in relation to the volume's contributors building up to her inspired image of 'being prone' as one which permeated the collection. Prone, as she explained it is to be bent (indeed she had isolated images of people lying down in the volume: sleeping, exhausted, dead) - "leaning forward but looking down." All in all, Kate's talk worked perfectly as a wrap-up and made for a nice segway into the Q&A session that followed.

At this point my note-taking skills floundered and so instead of trying to weave a narrative out of them I'll just isolate some interesting snippets of the conversation:

The first thing to be brought up right after Kate was done was Lee's suggestion that the framing device of the volume (in particular the choice of putting Sedgwick's essay at the end, disregarding the alphabetical order the rest of the volume followed) sought to create a narrative drive within the works. Andrew Parker came out and quite politely took a stab at Lee by arguing that the framing of the piece did in no way try and privilege Eve's piece but that the main reason for placing her essay at the end visually presented the fact that it was the one piece that was not part of the call for submissions of the volume, something Janet echoed leaving Lee to smile and just say he had just offered "one observation" and that he never expected everyone to agree with his opinion, but that one couldn't help but agree that the placement also suggested an 'ending' - a framed and purposefully placed endpoint to an otherwise arbitrary (alphabetical) ordering.
After Lee and Joe left (to catch the train) the conversation veered towards (oddly enough) an attack on the vision of 'Queer Theory' that Jeff Nunokawa had already mulled over both in his essay and in his presentation. Aided by supportive comments from the audience this seemed to take on currency among the attendants: Queer Theory as rooted in a particular historical and cultural moment (Jeff had begun his talk with an acknowledgment of his nostalgia and never did he try and hide that during the panel).
One of the more interesting lines of discussion was actually brought up by the controversy over whether Queer Theory could ever be thought of as divorced from progressive politics to which Janet's anecdotal Law experiences offered a nice counter-argument.
Elin Diamond's comments and questions, cementing Jeff's currency in the discussion actually offered a nice compromise between this nostalgia of time long lost and an anxiety in graduate work regarding this past-ness of queer theory: she offered us a way to think about our present situation in light of theory (in times of theoretical upheaval that's what people do - "you have plenty of crises!" she told us, why not use those to help you theorise in the same way the ACT UP meetings did for those in the hey-day of Queer Theory?)
Also very welcome was this suggestion that one could understand QT as an object-less methodology; a praxis more than an object of study (something that echoed Janet's earlier idea of this volume being quite 'writerly' - it could be indeed style which cut across the essays if one did not want to see a thematic, narrative-like connection between them).

And there you have - mostly nonsensical ramblings of an audience member at this event. I will not try and talk about the dinner that proceeded the event for the conversations were much too fun and interesting to have them be put to public speculation.
Maybe blogging about Rutgers English Events will become a staple of A Blog Next Door - now if only that could have an attentive and responsive audience...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

After Sex? or How Writing since Queer Theory is Theorized Queerly Pt 1

After Sex? On Writing since Queer Theory
SAQ Special Edition
Ed. Janet Halley & Andrew Parker

Blogging about an academic symposium - it seems like an attack on everything I get taught in grad school, but I do feel that the more interesting part of a panel like this is the interactions and the personal reactions from the audience (consider it [retr
oactive] liveblogging in an academic setting).

Kicking off the Rutgers English Sexuality Speakers Series, we welcomed to the Rutgers New Brunswick campus a handful of respected scholars working in the field of 'queer theory,' celebrating the publication of the special issue of SAQ entitled 'After Sex? On Writing since Queer Theory' and despite trying to trivialize the event, here goes a post dedicated to what I enjoyed about the talk.

After a slew of introductions and thanks, Michael Cobb took to podium and kicked off the event:

Michael Cobb
Apologizing for his rather casual presentation last time he was at Rutgers, Michael came prepared this time with a talk focusing on privacy and the couple - a nice companion to his piece on 'loneliness' (and 'singlehood') showcased in the volume. Swiftly moving from American Law, to Wizard of Oz references (in talking of how "there's no place like home," where both the concept of home and of privacy were contested in a queer context) to an attentive reading of Woolf, Michael kept the conversation light enough and even garnered some laughter ("and" is a terrible word sometimes, he quipped) in a presentation, that while a bit too formal (matching his suit and glasses) still proved to be a good start. I particularly enjoyed his discussion on 'the 'tyranny of two' (which reminded me of my favourite passage from his essay - his suggestion of appending an S to the LGBTQ... acronym to stand in for "singles" as yet another sexual minority) and the ways in which 'two' makes the private public - what happens when you're only one? Ending with the epigrammatic "When you're in love with someone else, you lose your privacy" Michael stepped down and opened the floor for Lee to begin:

Lee Edelman
Unaided by a script or even notes, Lee maintained the attention of the audience with the eloquence and 'airtight' theoretical model of thinking that was later to be criticized by a fellow member of the panel. Picking up on one of Michael's lines ("They've lost their protection of home") Lee pursued a rather hostile (abrasive?) take on 'queer theory' and the nostalgia of the volume, as well as its narratological framing (issues and questions that, for anyone familiar with Edelman's work, were not surprising). Lee argued for a concept of queer theory that does not look back on its 'founding texts' and a locatable 'origin' (circa early 1990s) and revels in nostalgia for a time where we didn't just look back in time and think of the time where the Academy was doing something. This nostalgic looking back, this reading queer theory in a narratological sense is unnerving for Edelman mainly because it fosters an optimism and a sense of home that he does not endorse - to work in queer theory is to lose one's sense of home. The 'Edelmanian line' (as opposed to the suggested Bersanian line that Halley and Parker suggest in the Introduction) works to disentagle this appraisal of 'goodness' (optimism, a vision of hope, of a horizon) in queer theory, that for Edelman negates the project of queer theory itself.

Joseph Litvak
Following Lee - being 'after Lee' must be hard. Unless you're Joe Litvak and then, with a theme like 'After the Jew' you know you can steer attention back to your work while the audience is still reeling from Lee's electric musings on Queer Theory and in particular his opinions regarding the framing and structure of the volume (but more on that later). "I will be incoherent" he began - clearly contrasting his own method of delivery with Lee's suspiciously understated eloquence. After savouring the word 'resentiment' more times than I could count, Litvack went on to flesh out what was 'queer' about blacklisted Hollywood Jews in 1954. If Lee had suggested we could say Plato and Shakespeare were footnotes to Queer Theory (or was it the other way round? I should have taken better notes) and could be placed at the 'beginning of Queer Theory, as opposed to the Queer triumvirate of Sedgwick, Butler and Warner; Litvak wanted to suggest we could also see the McCarthy era as creating one of the first notions of queerness in the figure of the Jew. The salient portion of Litvak's talk actually came towards the end when he veered away from his own project and suggested that one way we could think about current Queer Theory - as a provocatively autobiographical and writerly methodology: a stylistic marker rather than a theoretical one (which this humble grad student wishes had been fleshed out by other panelists).

Check out After Sex? or How Writing Since Queer Theory is Theorized Queerly Pt 2

Lars and the Real Girl, or How Social Inadequacy Meets Ryan Gosling

At last - a movie about a socially stunted young man who has a blowup doll for a girlfriend.
Okay, so maybe no one out there was really waiting for this movie, but hell if it isn't a damn good feel-good, feel-depressed indie dramedy with a nuanced performance by the flawless Ryan Gosling (one reads about his perfectionism and after seeing his work over the last two years, one is not that surprised - he's an actor-y actor, and I kinda like it).
The set-up: a young man living in the garage of his family home (his brother and sister-in-law live in the main house) starts breaking out of his isolated social life when he meets someone online and they come to visit. Enter Bianca: the blowup doll. Following Patricia Clarkson's advice his family and the entire town humour him and even begin creating a life for Bianca that at times rubs Lars the wrong way. What could easily have been a Will Ferrel or Adam Sandler one-note sketch vehicle movie is here turned into an exploration of the inability of one person to connect with the world around him.
In one scene Lars reads Don Quixote to Bianca, and in a sense Lars is a Quixote-like figure - not just a solitary and fantastically-minded 'knight' but also a slightly delusional character who relates to fantasies of a foreign missionary girlfriend, and of choking teddy bears better than to his earnest and concerned family members. Gosling plays Lars as if he was a delicate crystal which, if touched will crumble into little pieces (he flinches, shies away and recoils from people's hugs saying they 'burn him,') and it takes a talented actor to pull off what are essentially one-man scenes; also Gosling is keenly aware of the thin line that Lars straddles - he could have been played for comedy all the way throughout and could have been played for pity but Gosling manages to hit either and both those notes whenever the writing requires it.
The strength of the movie (which plays like any and most indie dramedies) is, not only Gosling's performance but Nancy Oliver's script. Coming from Six Feet Under the black humour is not surprising - what does come off as a surprise is the ways in which the script balances its warmth, its darker undertones and still manages to spark uproarious (albeit sometimes awkward) laughter from its audience. Indeed, it is the naturalist tone of the piece - working with an absurdist premise - that makes you want to hug Lars even though the movie has also argued he might be more broken, more delusional and more socially inept than anyone you've ever encountered.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Desperate Housewives, or How Lynette Got her Groove Back

At last! Desperate Housewives gets self-aware enough to realise that while the corporate 'mos would love a chance to live in Wisteria Lane, it will always be Teri Hatcher who keeps us away ($2000 suits or no $2000 suits). Susan will always be for me the weakest link in what is otherwise an (albeit inconsistently) well-written show. This is why it was hilarious to see the kind of wit and spite I usually direct at Teri Hatcher actually played out on screen deliciously by Kevin Rahm and Tuc Watkins: I mean, how bitchier can primetime gays get?
And yet, it was also interesting to see the new 'gay couple' in Marc Cherry's show from an academic standpoint: this is where (arguably a minority of) the (alleged) gay 'community' wants to go. To the suburbs, where we are 'just like you' gentle heterosexuals: we have jobs, we wear suits (and/or manpris with purple polos) and can afford a suburban house where we take care of our dog. It seems that Lee and Bob are the poster-couple for the white upper-middle class gay male community - it comes as no surprise then that they would show up in a show about and for white upper-middle class America, who, like Susan watches Cable and believes themselves to (not only be a 'nice neighbour') but inclusive and open to 'those people.'
Don't get me wrong, I am all for exposure - wealthy and well groomed gays are better than no gays at all, right? And while it may seem as if I am complaining I actually think (as I've noted before) that ABC is way ahead of its competitors when it comes to queering their network; that, and oh yeah, they know their target consumer audience. And if they can keep doing that while mining my love-hate relationship with the has-been that was Ms Hatcher, all the better!
And yet, I still found this week's high point the storyline with Lynette and her wigs (Brandy, Candy, 'Jeff'...) - it was about time Ms Huffman (or is it Mrs Macy?) got a good storyline that veered away from the (interesting, nuanced but still) dramatic and heavy cancer aspects of her character. Huffman, who along with Marcia Cross can go easily from drama to comedy and not miss a beat, was in dire need of stretching her comedic skills and seeing her get her mojo back was enjoyable - as much for Tom as it was the audience.
From the previews, it looks like I'll have at least one more episode with Funny Huffman to look forward to - til then!

Suburban Glamour, or How the 'Burb's go all emo on us

Suburban Glamour
Writer/Artist: Jamie McKelvie

Just when I thought my comic book collection would not be seeing any new additions (currently it only houses Whedon stuff, BKV books, Gerard Way's Umbrella Academy and Fables TPBs) comes Suburban Glamour.
The premise: an emo couple (not romantically - at least not right now, one never knows with these teenagers, though I forget this is not a WB show where pairing up top-billed teens was mandatory) find themselves living a normal life - parties, shopping, school... when Astrid's long lost childhood imaginary friends come back to warn her about 'something' coming to the town. Out there? Yeah. It also doesn't hurt that the artwork is pretty and pink!
With a wit and spark that seems indebted to everyone from Joss Whedon to anyone writing WB shows circa early 2000s, Suburban Glamour finds that good balance between being ... well suburban (normal, average) and glamorous (stylish, fantastical) - you get both an almost date-rape episode AND a talking marionette; you get both a shopping spree AND a Bang-On-like store (in Suburbia? Yeah... pretty hard to believe!)
Needless to say, I can't wait for the next installment, and not just because it showcases hottie David on the cover.

My favourite line exchange:
David: Yeah, go on it's not like we've got anything better to do.
Astrid: Speak for yourself!
Chris: You're right. I'm sure sitting in your room listening to MCR and refreshing your myspace endlessly is much more fun.
Astrid: ... Sometimes I look at facebook too.

My favourite touch: the 'title page' that doubled as an early-morning montage that could just as easily been a scene of a 1990s chick-flick if put to the tune of an upbeat cloying song (this is, of course a compliment - I am thinking Clueless's use of Supermodel, or more recently Devil Wears Prada's use of Suddenly I See)

Friday, October 19, 2007

LGBetty, or How Queer is MODE? Pt 1 Marc St James

I love Ugly Betty. I really do. I love the eye-candy (Christopher Gorham, Eric Mabius, Michael Urie), I love the way it maintains a good balance between the soap operas it was inspired by and comedy (see my thoughts here), I also love the way it looks (vibrant colours, SaTC-like fashion-forward costuming)... needless to say I think it is one of the best comedies out there right now.
It is also one of the (albeit few) shows that continuously portrays queer characters (Brothers and Sisters comes to mind - and this Sunday Desperate Housewives joins the ranks - are we noticing that these are all ABC shows? I guess Disney knows where it's at!). And while it is always refreshing to see the queer community portrayed in primetime tv what with Will and Grace and QAF gone, the L Word confined to Cable and Ellen stuck in a sterilised de-queered position in daytime tv.
But, how queer-forward is Ugly Betty?

Marc St James - the stereotype
Played wonderfully by the talented Michael Urie, Marc St James is the kind of gay the LGBT Community loves and also loves to hate seeing on primetime. We love him because he is the stereotypical gay - which regardless how much PR the LGBT community tries to mobilise it will never get rid of: Marc is white, middle/upper middle class, shallow, fashionable, flamboyant and, just as Will in Will&Grace he is oddly asexual and surprisingly subservient to heterosexual characters (Wilhelmina and Amanda). I would even venture to say that it is because Marc fulfills this stereotypical (cultural) space that the LGBT community would find him problematic. Yes, we've come a long way since gay characters were muted, unsexed and invisible in mainstream American popular culture (see, for example my post on Suddenly Last Summer) but is Marc the kind of character we want to be seeing ourselves reflected as? Probably not, he is, after all a stock character by now - see Stanley Tucci in Devil Wears Prada, Jack in Will&Grace, Homer's roommate in that one episode, Lloyd in Entourage, etc...
Marc offers us in Ugly Betty a character that once gives us a visible LGBT community and at the same time problematizes the ways mainstream America commodifies and packages gay characters so that they are likable (everything from "Hey! We're normal! We're assistants just like you!" to "See how Marc helps Amanda, you can have your very own 'helping gay' too!").

So what else is Ugly Betty doing for the LGBT community?
Check the blog next week for parts 2 and 3:

How Queer is MODE? Pt 2 Alex/is Meade
How Queer is MODE? Pt 3 Justin Suarez

Talking Animals, or How I am Seeing Double

Apparently, one of the recurring themes in my week's entertainment was talking to inanimate/imaginary objects:

Betty found herself last night attacked by her teddy bear 'poquito' after cheating on her writing class:

And in the new comic I picked up this week Suburban Glamour courtesy of a fabulous Brit writer/artist (Jamie McKelvie) we found our protagonist encountering her (thought to be) long lost imaginary childhood friends:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kisses, or How I am a Romantic at heart

So if there is something I love is a good cinematographic kiss.
I mean, what is The Notebook without that rainy kiss between Ryan and Rachel?The kiss is arguably the best part of Spiderman (even if it does include Ms Kiki Dunst, who's long past her Bring it On prime!) and while last night's episode of Pushing Daisies had its slew of good moments (Ned as a prince charming, the Jedi vs Southerner sword fight, the beaver-shirt story) but the best one was (by far) the kiss shared by Ned, the pie maker and Chuck, the un-dead dead girl:

It was then that I started thinking about other memorable kisses on TV - turns out all the ones I love tend to be kisses by star-crossed lovers who are doomed:

Starbuck and Apollo as they discuss their respective relatives and talk about how marriages are getting in the way of their hot, steamy romance:Buffy and Angel in that fateful episode that the blond slayer will never remember:

Hopefully, since Ned and Chuck have already braved death I won't have to worry about them pulling a Sackhoff and killing one off, or a Whedon and creating a spinoff that separates them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Suddenly Last Summer, or How Queering is Fun

Suddenly Last Summer (1959)

As part of The Film Experience's Montgomery Clift's blog-a-thon I decided to write a thought-post on Joseph L. Mankiewicz's film starring the man himself and two of the silver screen's greatest actresses of all time: Liz Taylor and Ms Katherine Hepburn.

For anyone familiar with the drama of Tennessee Williams the fact that Suddenly Last Summer works to represent delusion as a mechanism for self-defense is not uncommon. Williams' characters (mostly his Southern Belle heroines) are trapped in an infinite theatricality that sustains and destroys them. It is no wonder that, added of course to William's own sexuality, his plays and characters have been taken up by the queer community as bastions of our own community's conversations with itself over creating coherent narratives of our lives. Much more grim than that 'other' gay iconic narrative of going 'over the rainbow,' Williams seems to offer us, one could argue, a story where we are always dependent on the kindness of strangers... and sadly, in the instance of Sebastian Venable that doesn't lead to a place where bluebirds sing, but on the contrary, a sandy white beach where Liz Taylor screams.

What is interesting to see at work in Suddenly Last Summer (the film) is of course the censoring of the queer aspect of Sebastian - which quite interesting at a meta-textual level, is left to Montgomery Clift (playing 'Dr Sugar') to unearth - though it is quite obviously left implicit in the movie we knew Sebastian liked boys: we're told Sebastian met with 'bright, young, beautiful, sophisticated people,' that at the time when he died he was famished for blonds and that he used both his mother (played exquisitely by Hepburn) and his cousin (the luminous Liz Taylor) as 'decoys' to attract what we later see are scantily clad men (though the movie would never have put it that bluntly). Sebastian's sexuality can be reconstructed of course by tapping into these tiny details, but I am interested in the ways in which Montgomery Clift's Dr. Cukrowicz is brought in not just to (re)create this narrative of sexual deviance, but also to (re)formulate it: 'He would've been charmed by you' he's told by Mrs Venable and in that first act he is positioned in her eyes as one of those 'bright young boys' Sebastian would have been attracted to. And yet, this runs parallel to the way in which Mrs Venable also constructs Dr Cukrowicz as Sebastian (both 'artists' of some sort, both now taking care of Mrs Venable and Kathy) - something her delusion at the end of the movie will confirm.
What I find intriguing most of all is how this is mediated by the movie: Clift's Doctor is for most of the movie an audience - indeed his profession (a neuro-psychiatrist) demands he listen to Aunt Violet's stories of Sebastian, to Kathy's past memories and ultimately the movie works towards making the entire cast an audience for Kathy's final exposition (which Mankiewicz is quick to turn into a flashback, highlighting our own audience-function). Clift is then left with the brunt of reactionary performance - he is stoic, poised and maintains an almost inexpressive exterior when he is propelled against the melodramatics of Hepburn and the antics of Taylor, and it is there that his performance of Dr Cukrowicz begins to turn into Sebastian. With his 'beautiful, blue and frightened eyes' Clift becomes for the two women in the play a 'tabula rasa' - a blank slate where the memory of Sebastian (as retold by Violet, by Kathy, as represented by the summer poems, the white clothing) can be projected and inscribed onto the doctor, so that by the end it drives Aunt Violet to the delusion that he is Sebastian, and where one can take that last scene (and his lack of resistance when encountering Aunt Violet's initial identification of him as Sebastian) as a way of placing himself in Sebastian's shoes - delusion is appropriated and (re)assembled as truth, if only momentarily to allow the credits to roll.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Applegate Who? or How I prefer 'Bad Sam'

Monday 9:30pm
Samantha Who? (ABC)
Continuing my devotion to writing up short and helpful reviews of new fall shows (really, just a way to past time here...) I watched ABC's new comedy 'Samantha Who?'
Before I say anything more I'll just say this: I like Christina Applegate. I loved her in Married with Children, loved her emmy-winning turn for arguably one of Friends' best episodes ever! (The One With Rache's Other Sister) and she is one of those actresses that just makes me smile whenever I see her in anything (be it a Will Ferrel movie, or a Cameron Diaz comedy, a Gwyneth (crashing) vehicle...) cause she seems so genuinely funny - the kind of actress I'd invite for drinks cause I know we'd have a good time.
And yet, I can see her struggling in this: it sounds like a good enough premise - 'bad' Sam loses her memory and is now finding out who she is and wanting to make better to choices (like tell her boyfriend she was cheating on him, and apparently, moving in with her parents...). And true enough that does offer some moments of laughter - her antics during an AA meeting are actually a highlight of the episode even if it is a bit over the top. But Applegate is better when she's by herself and works the comedy alone. And I say struggling because the entire episode kept trying to find humour in the situation more than in Sam herself, so that by the end of the episode her mom and dad had already annoyed me, her best friend had irritated, her 'lover' struck me as sleazy and I was left with only two characters (other than Sam) that I wish I had seen more of: the hottie Barry Watson from 7th Heaven fame as the boyfriend, and Melissa McCarthy of Gilmore Girls fame as her estranged 'school' friend who lies her way back into Sam's life: "We stopped being friends when you became more popular and I became less and less... and less" she tells Sam [this may just mean I have a soft spot for WB alumni...]
But yes, over all quite disappointing. In a way it left me wanting to see what a sitcom with just 'Bad Sam' could be like - the flashback to the coffee place where Sam and Todd meet was also a highlight - who doesn't like Christina Applegate playing bitchy? I know I'm not alone when I say 'Bring on the bad Sam!'

Favourite part of the show:

Todd in a biker jacket.

"I know you're in a hurry to get to work, but your street corner will still be there when you get there!" - our first glimpse at the 'bad Sam' underneath 'good Sam'

"If people could still change, would you still be you?" I don't know Ms Jennifer [I still know what you did last summer] Esposito... I don't know, would you?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Star Chicken, or How Seth Green and Star Wars is a great combination

So instead of watching that overdramatic Sally Field vehicle I caught Robot Chicken: Star Wars Special on [adult swim] tonight, and it only cemented my idea that Seth Green is one of my favourite people out there - anyone who has a filmography that includes Austin Powers, Idle Hands, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, voice work in Family Guy, Batman Beyond, guestage work in Will and Grace, That 70s Show, The X-Files, Mad About You and Angel (among many others...) is an entertainer that deserves my praise and respect (you'll notice I also neglect to incorporate things like Without a Paddle, Party Monster and many other unfortunate work, but don't we always when we choose to respect someone?).

Sunday 10:30pm
Robot Chicken [adult swim] @ Cartoon Network
Star Wars is a phenomenon that is now so embedded in our popular culture I will be the first to consider you illiterate and uncultured if you have not seen the original trilogy (which includes one of the best movies ever: Empire Strikes Back). It is therefore not uncommon for a couple of projects every now and then to try and capture financial and pop cultural currency: whether it is in the form of Ewok movies, a 'new' prequel trilogy, extended editions, parody movies, or as we have seen this year two television specials that take the Star Wars tradition and flip it on its head: Family Guy's Star Wars season premiere (read my thoughts here) and Robot Chicken's Star Wars Special.
After seeing the Robot Chicken special I can safely say it is the more successful one of the two, in the sense that because of its sketch structure it is able to explore different territory (Star Wars the Ice Show, an awkward Leia-Luke aftersex conversation, a Bush the Jedi dream). Also, the in depth knowledge of the characters and the animators detail when replicating the characters we all know and love (or loathe: see for example a Jar Jar/airlock sketch that would have made President Roslin proud) is exciting and refreshing. The (re)imagined version of The Emperor is by far the best part of a gem in parody/veneration television. Clearly Seth and his Robot Chicken pals loove Star Wars and this is nothing short of a love-letter to Mr Lucas (guesting alongside other [albeit random] others: Conan O'Brien, James Van der Beek, Mark Hamill, Joey Fatone) and his work.

Needless to say I am tres excited for that /other/ love letter to Mr Lucas starring none other than the lovely Ms Veronica Mars Kristen Bell (now of infamous Heroes fame): Fanboys. I have already seen some footage from the exclusive preview shown at Comic-Con and I can safely say it is going to be A-Mazing! I mean, when Mr Lucas himself agrees to let you film at the Skywalker ranch, you know it's gonna be good. For those of you who aren't enlightened yet and have no idea what I'm talking about Fanboys follows a couple of friends on the eve of the unveiling of Episode One, way back when we all thought it could still be a good movie and it follows their adventures as they try and hijack the movie before it hits theatres.

But back to Robot Chicken...

Favourite Part(s) of the Show:

Bobba Fett and the homoerotics of having Solo on the Rocks.

Darth Vader:I am your father!
Luke: That's impossible!
Darth Vader: ...And Princess Leia is your sister!
Luke: That's improbable!
Darth Vader: ...And the Empire will be defeated by Ewoks! ...And as a child I built C3-P0!
Luke: Well if you're not gonna take this seriously...

"No speak-o minimum wage-o" - The Emperor's best line.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Monty, or How You should tune in Oct 17

So one of my favourite blogs is hosting a Montgomery Clift blog-a-thon and oddly enough Suddenly Last Summer is the next movie on my queue. This is clearly a sign - expect a post on that Wednesday!

Y Again, or How my Growing Suspicion that BKV is Joss Whedon continues...

If you care about Brian K. Vaughan (and really, if you are a living, breathing human being with or without a soul you should!) then you probably already caught the last cover for his award-winning dystopic series Y the Last Man. A brief synopsis for those unfamiliar with bkv's great work courtesy of Wikipedia (a bit simplistic, but it'll do):

In the series, on July 17, 2002, something (speculated to be a plague) simultaneously kills every mammal possessing a Y chromosome - including embryos, fertilized eggs, and even sperm with the exception of Yorick Brown, a young amateur escape artist, and his Capuchin monkey, Ampersand.

Society is plunged into chaos as infrastructures collapse and the surviving women everywhere try to cope with the loss of the men, their survivors' guilt, and the knowledge that humanity is doomed to extinction. Vaughan meticulously crafts the new society that emerges out of this chaos, from the conversion of the phallic Washington Monument to a monument to the dead men, to the genesis of the fanatical ultra-feminist Daughters of the Amazon, who believe that Mother Earth cleansed itself of the "aberration" of the Y chromosome, to male impersonators becoming valued romantically and professionally.

Over the course of their journey, Yorick and his friends discover how society has coped in the aftermath of the plague. However, many of the women they encounter have ulterior motives in regard to Yorick. Though the subject matter of the series is entirely serious, Y: The Last Man is also noted for its humor. Yorick in particular is a source of one-liners, although the other characters have their moments as well.

Now with the last cover out and its impending end I have to wonder - will BKV pull a Joss Whedon Buffy Season 6 circa 'Normal Again'? If you need refreshing:

In a turn of events Buffy is transported to LA where her parents come and visit her to the mental asylum she has allegedly been in for the past six years: Sunnydale, Dawn, the vampires and the demons are all figments of her imagination. Or are they?

Buffy: And that Sunnydale and all of this, none of it was real.
Xander: Aw, come on, that ridiculous. What, you think this isn't real just because of all the vampires and demons and ex-vengeance demons and the sister that used to be a big ball of universe-destroying energy?

Friday, October 12, 2007

The FOX giveth, or How the FOX taketh away...

For those of you who don't know this yet, I am a BIG Buffy fan (stacks of dvd's, Anya figurines, comic books and posters all over my place can vouch for this) and so - alongside the WB, I have always had a soft spot for FOX: how can you not when it has given us such jewels as The Simpsons, Family Guy, Buffy, Angel, X-Files, House... the list goes on.
And yet, if I've ever had an abusive relationship it's been that of me and FOX: canceling Drive? forcing Buffy to move to UPN? canceling Firefly after not even airing it in order? not giving us more seasons of Titus? (okay, maybe that last one is a bit on the melodramatic side).
So it comes as no surprise that those suits at FOX have decided to make one of the greatest attacks on the Buffyverse in years - maybe even greater than not offering that blond a network to thrive in: they have canceled all theatrical airings of their tv shows.
How does this affect Buffy fans you ask? Well, if you don't know you should get learned: Season Six not only offered us a sexy-vamp-slayer guilty-pleasure, a memory-loss writing ep-jewel and possibly one of Joss' best characters (read:Andrew), it also gave us Once More With Feeling, the musical episode. After it aired originally and since 2004 it has become somewhat of a cult hit amongst Buffy fans - it is a way to 'come together' (read: sociologically analyze) the people who share our own fandom: I myself have attended two showings (one in Vancouver and one in San Diego - yes I am THAT big of a fan!) and they were alot of fun.
I just wanted to post a rant on it: FOX - you may giveth, but lately, you are takingeth more away. Needless to say my letter to Rupert is already on its way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pushing Rock, or How I am Seeing Double

One of many (and I stress MANY) reasons why I love this show is that it showcases the singing talents of this Tony Award winning blond:

This of course applies as easily to Pushing Daisies (with Kristin Chenoweth) as it does to 30 Rock (with Jane Krakowski)