Friday, May 30, 2008

Beware the Writers

I had this epiphany the other day. I was reading Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film, and Culture, a book compiled of essays by members of Act One. Fascinating stuff. Craig Deitweiler's chapter, "Opportunity Lost," talks about how Christians were presented with the opportunity to connect with Hollywood with The Passion of the Christ. Instead, lines were drawn in the sand, and bitterness grew between the Christian camps on the outside, and the Jews on the inside.

After recounting a bit of film history, Deitweiler points out that a lot of Hollywood, in past and present, is run by Jews. Many of those Jews have valid chips on their shoulders from wrongs committed by Gentiles - pogroms, HUAC blacklistings, etc. So it makes sense when anti-Christian sentiment crops up in TV and movies from time to time; it's a writer's reaction to an injustice.

This correlated with a conclusion I drew a few years ago. My last summer in college, I took a lit class that presented material written by American women in the 19th and 20th centuries. We read (in a short time, I might add), Harriet Beacher Stowe, Kate Chopin, Sarah Orne Jewett and Nella Larsen. I noticed that none of these women were particularly kind to men; men were often portrayed as being weak and easily swayed by money or power. Women, on the other hand, were often strong, moral, and maternal. Those who weren't usually came to a bad end (Edna in Chopin's The Awakening).

But the male characters often bore the brunt of the criticism. And why wouldn't they? Until the 20th century, women were not encouraged to write. Many of them published under male pen names or remained anonymous (Jane Austen published Sense and Sensibility under the phrase "By a Lady") to get past the male gatekeepers of publishing.

Generations later, there shouldn't be any surprise that men in media are so often portrayed as weak, moronic thugs. Women writers were repressed, modern writers are still angry.

This is why you should be very careful with the writers. On the outside, we may be slightly disorganized, frumpy, and less hip than the actors, graphic designers, directors, and other people who create our media.

However, without the written material, there isn't much to act, design, or direct (moment of silent recognition for heinous amounts reality TV we endured during the WGA strike). Writers control a lot. We're also very sensitive individuals.

So be nice, or you may set off a series a cataclysmic reactions the likes of which the media world has certainly seen before.

P.S. For more information about Act One and its programs, click

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Extraordinary Frigidaire

In an age when many built fallout shelters in backyards, I'm sure the general population would have been heartened to find that their friendly family Frigidaire could function as a one-man shelter.

In fact, this particular Frigidaire can be tossed about by a nuclear blast and that latch will hold firm, even when it's impersonating a tumbleweed. Hey, it worked for Indiana Jones.

In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the world has shifted since the last installment. The Nazis, what is left of them, are hiding out in Argentina. The war in Europe is over, but the Cold War rages on. The government is testing BOUSs (bombs of unusual size) in the desert. The fear of communism hangs in the air; not even Indy is exempt from suspicion. I mean, come on, nothing says pinko like a bullwhip, right? The fact that dear Dr. Jones is kidnapped by Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko does not help.

Let us pause in a moment of appreciation for Cate Blanchett's turn as Colonel Doctor Irina Spalko. The woman played Bob Dylan, after all, and now she's got Catherine Zeta-Jones's Chicago haircut, wubbled wubble-u's, and a desperate desire "to know!"

The quest for knowledge lays at the center of this installment; this is Indiana Jones meets post-modernism. The quest has less to do with religious relics than with the beyond, and the knowledge the beyond can offer.

Nobody asks how the beyond and the truth of items such as the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail affect each other. Apparently, it's possible to have a beyond (at least in Peru) and an Ark designed by the most high God coexisting. And let's not forget the Sankara stones in Temple of Doom's India. In the Jones universe, truth may be a regional sort of thing - but this is pulp fiction, and we smile and go along.

Karen Allen reprises her role as Marion Ravenwood, now Marion Williams. She's older now, but believable as a real woman - her lips aren't jet puffed and she's earned her smile lines. Her main responsibility is her son Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a charmer of a boy who enjoys leather, his switchblade, and perfecting his ducktail.

I wrote earlier about Harrison Ford and his advancing age. All men should hope to take a punch so well at 65. Indy doesn't shy away from the fact that he's not as spry as he used to be, but he wears it well. There are times when he reminded me of James Garner in Murphy's Romance; older, but wiser for it.

I haven't said much about the plot, not that there's a need. The plot provides opportunities for swordfights on Amphibious Assault Vehicles, trips down perilous waterfalls of death, scantily-clad living dead, ants of unusual size, large snakes, not-quite-quicksand, firefights, caves, spider webs, double-crossings, hidden doors...

Everything we've come to expect from Indiana Jones. So sit back, enjoy, and pass the popcorn.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Prince Caspian and Queen Susan the Babe

Summer movies are upon us, thank goodness. I didn't know how many months of Drillbit Taylor-type offerings I could take.

We went to Caspian on Friday, very curious to see how the Narnia franchise fared. Danny and I read through the books last fall; Prince Caspian, though, has always been one of my favorites. Something about the kids tramping around the ruins and scavenging their own past always appealed to me.

This version of Prince Caspian kicks off with the birth of Caspian's cousin. Some cousins have lovely relationships, but Caspian's uncle, King Miraz, decides to off his nephew and the rest of the plot skitters on.

Some events are reworked from the original material. Susan's horn is blown much sooner than the book, bringing the Pevensie children back to Narnia a little sooner. This works, though. At the end of the day, we care more (or should care more) about the Pevensie children than we do about Caspian, so seeing them sooner is good. Delaying the introduction of the main characters usually backfires (original Superman being an example).

When we pick up with the Pevensies, we learn that Peter is having trouble adjusting to civilian life. Edmund is a changed kid, Susan needs to learn to deter unwelcome suitors, and Lucy is adorable, as always. All of the children are a bit older than in the book, but it still works.

Peter Dinklage is a most welcome Trumpkin; it is a credit to his acting abilities that he can act through that much rubber. Eddie Izzard (Nagel from Ocean's 12 and 13) voices Reepacheep perfectly.

There are quite a few battle scenes, some veering from the original material; all you needed was some fluff in the air and it looked rather Ridley Scott-ish at times.

All in all, the whole thing was delightful BUT for one little teensy development: Caspian and Susan have a "thing."

This "thing" mainly consists of a lot of eye contact between the two and a parting kiss, but as a Lewis purist, I'm rather against it. Danny and I argued over it on the drive home. On one hand, I can say, "yeah, if you're going to have Fetching Teen Susan and Hunky Teen Caspian, some flirting and whatnot is to be expected." BUT, there's a kind of beautiful innocence in Lewis's books. Danny pointed out that, in the books, the kids noted that once back in Narnia, the air made them change. They weren't British kids, they were Narnian kings and queens. Their old skills came back, enabling them to maneuver a battle better than your average 12-year-old. Susan, having been matured by the air quality, wouldn't have thought to have a "thing" with Caspian.

But I came back with the fact that Susan, even as an adult, is really kind of silly (I'm thinking Horse and His Boy) and it's her boy-crazy nature that contributes to events in The Last Battle.

Those are my feelings, but I strongly urge everyone to see this film; just beware the mushy parts.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

For the birds

We have swallows outside our apartment. They've built this lovely nest, although there's a group of four who attend to it or at least look on while others do the heavy lifting. Not sure what that means for their social life; there could be a Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice thing going on...hard to say.

Happy little chatty swallows, all with the runs. Seriously, our sidewalk is pelted with bird doo. And they're building something else, I think, around the back, because you can follow the trail. Either that, or they're getting their building materials from that side of the field.

That is one of the downsides of living in the middle of a protected wetland. Our manager can't remove the nests, or so she said last year. We thought the nest was charming last year, but then, there were only two birds and they held off on the metamucil.

They also abandoned three of the eggs. We're kind of hoping that doesn't happen again, although we're not wildly excited about having baby birds outside our front door.

Frankly, I don't care much if there's bird leavings on the sidewalk. I do care when my car looks like it's been shelled. I counted 21 hits before I washed it, and those were the larger ones.

We're parking a bit away. Hope Cecelia, Stanley, Eliza, and Bertram appreciate it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Iron Man and a Shift of Focus

Until now this blog has been pretty focused on writing and whatnot. Well, writing is the slowest business on the planet. And when it's not slow, it's dragging you through Dante's sixth or seventh level because things aren't going the way you wanted them to.

I have a hard time writing riffs on the subject. Unless there's really something going on, it's not a lot of fun. I find little joy writing about editing.

I do find great joy in writing things like my opinion on Iron Man and my personal trepidation for the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Golden Wheelchair. And because it's my blog, I make the rules.

So, back to Iron Man. Director Jon Favreau set out to make "a kind of independent film-espionage thriller crossbreed; a Robert Altman-directed Superman (1978), with shades of Tom Clancy novels, James Bond films, RoboCop (1987), and Batman Begins (2005)." (Thank you imDb). And after watching, I can say, "yeah, pretty much." Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark knows how to take a shot, scotch in particular. He's a self-depricating, boozing, womanizing genius.

Of course he's a genuis, there aren't that many good-guy dummies in the stable of superheroes. Peter Parker is brilliant and fueled with a spider-bite, Bruce Wayne with money and anger. Clark Kent's motivations lay somewhere in another galaxy, which may be why the latest installment didn't go so well.

You get the feeling Tony Stark and Lex Luther could hit it off discussing single malts, which may be why his character feels so fresh. He starts out as more of an anti-hero, smacked between the eyes with a sudden realization of personal responsibility for the world.

Working at his side is the efficient Pepper Potts. Now, let's face it. Comic books have not been kind to women. We have the scrappy girl reporter (hello Lois Lane), who really should look before she leaps. We have the girl-next-door (Mary Jane), whose primary goal is to bug Peter about their relationship before finding something really tall to be dangling from. Rachel Dawes, I think, is in the same category as Lois Lane; same attitude, different job description.

Then there's Pepper Potts. Pepper is the Girl Friday, and she can get it done. Remove paramours? Check. Steal files? Check. Insert Arc Reactor into Tony's chest? Double check, and all in stilleto heals. Mary Jane, eat your heart out.

Characters aside, the plot works as well as a comic book movie plot needs to. Tony introduces "ultimate war weapon" and is captured by terrorists shortly after. Tough luck. They tell him to replicate aforementioned weapon for them (thus enabling world domination); Tony agrees and begins work on a different project. Because of the language barrier and possibly too much vodka, the terrorists do not catch on until Tony has finished his wearable bat-mobile.

Tony's feet barely touch ground on the US of A before he makes it clear that he's had a change of heart in the realm of his business practices. Events unfold; his business partner, Obadiah Stane, does not entirely approve of Tony's decisions, Tony makes a shinier Iron Man suit, flies, saves the world, and occasionally utters some Transformers-esque dialogue. All in a few day's work, all enjoyable. And who knew Jeff Bridges had such a good looking head?

In other news, Indiana Jones and the Quest for the Holy Compression Stockings looms ever nearer. I mean, look at this guy.

Poor Indy. He's saved the world and it's best antiques so many times - and he looks exhausted. Yet here they're trotting out the latest installment of the Jones series. And there aren't even any Nazis!
To give credit, though, the supporting roles are packed with great names. When is Cate Blanchett not pitch-perfect? And Marion is back, presumably to find out why Indy hasn't returned her calls for a while.
Yes, I'll probably see it. Just never said I wasn't going to mock it.