November 22, 2010

The Last Airbender

So. I saw The Last Airbender last night. Is it as bad as they say ('they' being every sentient being in the universe)? Well, yes, it's as awful as you'd expect from the man responsible for The Happening.

Is it as bad as Southland Tales? Well, of course not, since nothing can be as bad as Southland Tales. Despite Kim Ki-duk's repeated attempts to make the shittiest movie ever made by a human, his odes to misogyny remain outclassed by the titanic suckitude of Richard Kelly. M. Night Shameamalan's latest pile of crap can't compare to the awesome badness that is Richard Kelly's latest attempt to destroy all life as we know it through artistic incompetence, but it's in some ways more depressing because M. Night did make one decent film and one great film, whereas the films of Kim Ki-suck and Dick Kelly have the combined artistic merit of a Kesha single. At least M. Night doesn't loathe women with such a passion that he feels compelled to portray them as devious imps who delight in using their feminine wiles to corrupt any man unfortunate enough to blunder into their web of lies, but M. Night does seem to loathe Indians. More on that later.

"But Carl Eusebius," I hear you saying, "M. Night Failamalan made The Happening, a movie that makes the wind a force of evil and features scenes of Marky Mark Wahlberg attempting to emote. Surely The Last Airbender (2010) will have some comedic value!" Okay, there's no denying that The Happening is a serious contender for the best comedy of the last ten years, its ostensibly being a horror film notwithstanding. Any time Wahlberg or that guppy-faced woman tried to act, I dissolved into a puddle of derisive laughter. Every instance of wind-induced suicide was funnier than the last, until that joker driving the hatchback full of people carefully stopped in the middle of the street and then zoomed headlong into a streetlight. Nothing could top that one. I don't think I've ever seen a scene so funny that wasn't in Dr. Strangelove.

At no point did I understand anything that was happening in The Last Airbender. I would say it was edited by a blind person with advanced Parkinson's disease, except such a person would be more professional and would have turned in a better piece of work than whoever assembled this mess. Characters teleport from one scene to the next. Entire reels seem to be missing. I've never seen a film that explains so much yet remains so incoherent. Scenes happen, and then characters tell us what happened in the scene we just saw. That's if they don't flash back to the scene we watched five seconds ago. At least when they flash back, there's a voiceover to explain the action we're watching for the second time in ten seconds. Excuse me, did I say action? I meant, characters telling us about action. Characters declare what they are going to do. Then, after doing it--off-screen--they tell us what they did. Then, in case we missed it the first two times, the next scene inevitably begins with another character telling us again. And it still never makes any sense. I'll give you the gist I pieced together:

As near as I can figure, the world of Generic Earth-type Planet (it doesn't get a name that I caught) is divided into tribes that color-coordinate their wardrobe with one of the four traditional Greek elements. (Why no, a world that consists mostly of Asians isn't based on a traditional way of conceiving the universe from an Asian society, such as the Chinese Five Processes. I mean, why would it?) These tribes are earth (East/Southeast Asians), water (Inuit), fire (South Asians), and air (dead). Into these tribes are born people known as benders, who can be trained to mentally control the element of their tribe. Aang (Noah Ringer) is the last airbender and is also the avatar, a superbeing reborn every generation who can be trained in the bending of all four elements and is charged with keeping the tribes from going to war. He has been inexplicably absent for a century, until he is busted out of some sort of orb prison by two members of the Water Tribe, Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Harpo from *sigh* Twilight). He finds that the Fire Tribe is making war on the others, having already subjugated some of them.

What is this prison, and how did Aang become trapped in it? Has the war been going on for the entire century of his absence? Why did the Fire Tribe launch this war? What happened to the other airbenders, so that Aang is the last? Why does Aang need to learn how to bend all the elements when he is virtually unstoppable simply with his air powers? Why is he captured only to escape later in the same scene three times? How can grown human beings, some of whom are partially educated, keep giving Shyamalan money to make films? These and many other questions will remain unanswered by The Last Airbender.

This is filmmaking at its most inept. I recall Ken Begg's review of Jaws, a classic film that gets almost everything right. In that review, Begg discusses the importance of blocking and how often it goes unnoticed. After all, when it's done well, you aren't supposed to notice. The Last Airbender can't even get the basics right. There's a scene in which the Fire King(?) is talking to General Daily Show Guy. They are walking down a corridor in conversation, when the king suddenly stops and turns his back to the camera. At this point, the general is to the king's left, and as he talks he moves over to the king's right, momentarily blocking our sight of him behind the king's head. If this doesn't sound so bad in text, try watching it onscreen. Even if you know nothing about blocking, you'll know that something's off; the actors should be blocked to move so that our view of them is not obstructed, because when that happens we become aware of the camera and, by extension, of the fact that we're watching a movie. It's the kind of error a film student would lose points for on his final project, and Shyamalan, who had directed eight professional films at this point, let this shot into his movie. Then it gets worse, as the king suddenly resumes walking, only to stop and turn his back to the camera again seconds later, at which point they repeat the same blocking mistake that obstructs the speaking actor's face behind something in the foreground (namely, the other actor's head).

Well, at least the incompetent cinematography distracted from the dreadful acting.

Oh M. Night, how did you go from casting Haley Joel Osmont in 1999 to casting the human-tree hybrid who plays the titular The Last Airbender? I haven't seen this much wood in a film since I watched the 78-hour cut of The Return of the King. This kid is as appealing as Rosie O'Donnell is to any human being with a modicum of decency or self-respect. His delivery of the dialogue in this flick was so lifeless I leaped from my chair shouting "The power of Christ compels you!" until I remembered vampires aren't scared of Jesus anymore. Of course, even Tony Todd couldn't have made the dialogue in this film work. Borat's English sounded more natural.

If you thought Marky Mark's attempts to show emotion were awful in The Happening, then you have taste and a sense of artistry. But you haven't seen anything until you see living fossil Noah Ringer giving a speech to the earthbenders to rise up against their Fire Tribe oppressors: "Earth benders! There is dirt under your feet!" That's it. That's the speech, and, hilariously, that's all it takes to start the rebellion. I'm serious. Aang says there is dirt all around them, so why aren't they using it to fight, and they get a "Luke turning off his targeting computer" look of Zen enlightenment and overthrow their oppressors in a brief, poorly-choreographed fight scene mostly consisting of guys whipping their arms around like they're making fun of Bruce Lee and tossing poorly-animated CGI flames into walls of dirt. Apparently dirt is invisible to East Asian-looking people. Good thing the Master Race--represented by Aang, Sokka, and Katara--is here to enlighten the coloreds. Yes, I did say that the Water Tribe is Inuit, and no, the film doesn't explain or even acknowledge that Sokka and Katara are white.

Poor Noah isn't alone in the terrible acting department, though, as no-one in this film gives a good performance. In fact, I hesitate to call what anyone put forth in this film "a performance". Everyone is lifeless and dull. If your movie has Harpo giving the best performance, you may want to consider taking that job at Wendy's your uncle offered you. And if you remember how bad he was in Twilight...then I'm terribly sorry you saw Twilight.

Here's where I get academic, Oh My Brothers. I'm no fan of Edward Said. For all the good his seminal work Orientalism did, the vast majority of those who came after him largely missed his point and took his thought in insane directions that sullied his original insight (see also Foucault, Michel and Nietzsche, Friedrich). But really, if you ever needed an example of self-Orientalism (and God help you if you do), look no further than M. Night Flopamalan.

In this movie, the heroes are white. They have pseudo-Japanese and Chinese names, but they are Newt Gingrich white. Donnie Osmond white. Mayonnaise-eating, soft rock-listening, Third World-exploiting white people. Oh they might be named Aang, Sokka, and Katara...but they don't mean it. This is the sort of film you can show your racist great-grandmother. There are colored people, sure, but they don't, like, do stuff. Good clean-cut folk take the lead in all things good and pure.

But every good Matrix rip-off faux-wushu film needs good villains. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had the legendary Cheng Pei-pei. Fist of Legend had Kurata Yasuaki. The Last Airbender has Dev Patel. If I learned one thing from M. Night Pleasegodnomoreamalan, it's that Indians are evil.

Folks, white people have truly won. I'm not much for making PC movies in which actors are cast to appeal to every ethnic group. (I'm looking at you, George Lucas.) Star Trek was dead to me when the creators cast a black Vulcan for no other reason than to say they had done so. I thought the whole point of that show was that diversity was a human strength. Shows what I know. The creators knew that what we unwashed stupid masses wanted to see was a terrible non-actor do a bad Nimoy impression, solely so those same creators could impress the rest of the Hollywood intelligentsia with their progressive cred. 'Well, you know,' we can picture them saying to another fat white tub of crap in a suit, 'I cast the first black Vulcan.'

But really, the nation of evil people, struggling to extinguish the flame of civilization carried by the morally perfect white people --who, after all, are only struggling to protect the East/Southeast Asian and Inuit people, backward primitives that can't protect themselves--are all Indians? This is why I say white people have truly won: An artist of Indian descent with total creative control over a multi-hundred-million-dollar project painstakingly crafts a story in which the noble master Aryan race is opposed by dastardly brown people.

Glenn Beck must love this movie.

I haven't said much about the special effects because, well, they suck, but not in a remarkable way. What's remarkable is that the film fails on every level. The acting is atrocious, the characters are flat and uninteresting, the world is fuzzy and indistinct, the story is nonsensical, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural, and the film is permeated with a weird sense of self-loathing and discomforting racism.

It'll be huge in France.

September 18, 2010

Twilight: Alpha Female

Twilight, pp. 71-73.

Mike, at least, was pleased by the obvious coolness between me and my lab partner.

Of course he is, the poor sap. And if you think Bella is going to give him a polite but firm 'Still not interested, sorry', well, you haven't read the rest of this blog. Or much of Twilight. Either way, you're better off.

Now we get to The Dance. It's apparently a Sadie Hawkins Day sort of thing, though here it's called by the unappealing moniker 'girls' choice spring dance'. I suppose Meyer didn't want to associate her fauxtagonist with anything so progressive as Sadie Hawkins.

I know what you're thinking--did he fire six shots, or only five? No, no, I'm sorry, that's not it. You're thinking this dance is setting up Bella's asking Edward to go to it. But that would involve Bella, you know, taking an action, and we'll have none of that. So even though the dance is girls' choice, we still get a scene of Mike taking initiative while Bella adheres to her policy of not doing a damn thing. But first, poor Jessica, recognising Bella's superiority, has to subtly ask Bella to let her have Mike.

Jessica...called me the first Tuesday of March to ask my permission to invite Mike to the girls' choice spring dance in two weeks.

So, do women do this, too? I've never really understood why men do it, and I've certainly never done it. Why do you need to ask someone else if you can ask another person out? What has that person got to do with it? Either the person you're asking will say yes, or she won't. Surely it's her choice, isn't it? Even stranger, here we have two high school girls do it. Stranger still since there's no reason to do so. What indication has Bella ever given that she's interested in Mike? He is interested in her. So it's not even a case of asking someone if you can date a person she wants to date. It's a case of asking someone if you can date a person who wants to date her. That makes the whole scenario give off an alpha female vibe. Bella is (somehow) highest in the pecking order, so no social moves can be made without first consulting her and getting her approval.

And why does Jessica want to ask Mike out anyway? From what we've seen, he doesn't give her the time of day. He's only interested in Bella, even if he has to go through Eric (ha!) to get to her. Indeed, Mike blows Jessica off because he's waiting for Bella to ask him to the dance!

'So,' Mike said, looking at the floor. 'Jessica asked me to the spring dance.'

'That's great.' I made my voice bright and enthusiastic. 'You'll have a lot of fun with Jessica.'

'Well...' He floundered as he examined my smile, clearly not happy about my response. 'I told her I had to think about it.'

'Why would you do that?' I let disapproval colour my tone, though I was relieved he hadn't given her an absolute no.

His face was bright red as he looked down again. Pity shook my resolve.

'I was wondering if...well, if you might be planning to ask me.'

In the name of God, why? Why would you wonder that?

This scene was also cut from the film, since, again, the screenwriter probably realised how little sense it makes. How is it that Mike, portrayed up to now as a popular kid with some social skills, squirms and blushes and stares at the floor like the nerd in a bad sex comedy asking out the sorority bombshell he's sweet on? And does he not get that Bella's not really interested and never has been? If this were the unpopular, social outcast kid with no experience, his obliviousness might pass, but Mike isn't the sort of stock character who would misread Bella's plain disinterest so badly. Unless, of course, he's The Jerk in the bad sex comedy, who can't seem to fathom that there exist girls who don't find him attractive, but Mike doesn't come off as The Jerk, and The Jerk is smarmy and cocksure, not nervous and shy.

It's nice that Bella felt some pity for him, though. If she had a really big heart, she'd go ahead and ask him to the dance so he'll feel better.


Also, note the 'clearly not happy about my response'.* Someone needs to sit Stephenie Meyer down and clearly explain to her clearly that 'young' don't mean 'dumb', clearly. That you're writing for a young adult readership is not an excuse to treat your readers like they're idiots. I think the average twelve-year-old reader has long since understood that Mike likes Bella, and that reader will understand that Mike would be unhappy when she says she doesn't want to go to a dance with him. But no, Meyer has to spell everything out in bright red letters. Mike might as well say all of his lines in Incredible Hulk-speak. (That's the speech of Dumb Hulk, of course.) 'Mike want Bella. Bella go dance with Mike? Bella say no? MIKE WANT BELLA. Bella say no 'gain. Mike sad.'

Bella gives Mike her permission to go to the dance with Jessica as well. Mike asks if she has already asked someone, momentarily eyeballing Edward when he does so. This lets us know that Mike does know Bella's not interested in him, so I'm officially clueless as to why he expected her to ask him.

'So you shouldn't make Jess wait any longer--it's rude.'

This is one of the most revolting aspects of the novel. This entire subplot exists solely to flatter Bella, the author's (and presumably meant to be the reader's) alter-ego. Mike is never a credible rival for Bella's affections. Rather, he is a tool to establish Bella's superiority over Jessica, the only other girl in the story, in the eyes of, well, everyone, including Jessica herself. She can only have someone Bella has rejected, and Bella will have the decaying corpse that rejected Jessica (as established when Meyer misused the expression 'sour grapes' on page 22). For those who were appalled at how bad the Twilight film was, it improves upon the novel again here by exorcising most of this subplot.

Ah, now I know what some of you poor souls who know something about Twilight are saying. 'But Carl Eusebius', you say, 'Mike may not be Edward's rival, but Jacob is, and he isn't here yet.' Now, I have not read the later books, but I have seen the later movies, and Oh My Brothers**, Bella never seriously considers Jacob, either. In fact, as a major character, Jacob gets treated even worse by Bellameyer. (More on that later, if I make it that far.)

'Yeah, you're right,' he mumbled, and turned, dejected, to walk back to his seat.

Poor guy. Now he's stuck going to the dance with the cute, popular, likable girl who's smart, friendly and asked him out. No wonder he's so dejected.
*I want you to know, my little droogies, that I found it difficult to resist making a fish joke here, but I managed.
**One of my readers commented on this phrase. It's a quote from the novel and film Clockwork Orange, so I've hesitated to add 'and Sisters', since then it wouldn't be a quotation. To balance this, I've tried to use feminine pronouns whenever I'm not specifically referring to males, reversing the traditional practice.

September 7, 2010

Twilight: Non-Action

Twilight, pp. 68-70

Lots of bad on these two-and-one-half pages.

In my dream it was very dark....

Ha! Don't worry, we're not going to bother with Bella's dream of Edward. The description of it is so flat and lifeless I wonder why Meyer included it at all. I'll only note that the following

After that, he was in my dreams nearly every night...

is pretty creepy, maybe pathological. Instead, we'll look at the ludicrous aftermath of Edward's Superman save. The driver of the van involved in the incident, one Tyler Crowley*, continues to apologise over the course of the next month, and Bella picks up on the signals from this unsurprising new suitor.

Tyler Crowley was impossible, following me around, obsessed with making amends to me somehow....He followed me between classes and sat at our now-crowded lunch table. Mike and Eric were even less friendly toward him than they were to each other, which made me worry that I'd gained another unwelcome fan.

I think this is way past 'making amends', and that last part lets us know that Bella think so, too. This is where, if she had any concern for her so-called friends or even just for other human beings, she would tell Tyler (and, really, the other two boys as well) that she's not interested and that he can either be her friend or be nothing. But of course, as we've seen, Bella likes being the object of boys' desire, even though she has no intention of ever reciprocating. She doesn't want to be bothered by their attention, so she does 'tr[y] to convince [Tyler that] what I wanted more than anything else was for him to forget all about it', but she stops short of telling him to leave her alone entirely because, well, then she wouldn't be flattered by his attention.

This is another area in which the Twilight film manages to make the teeniest of improvements over the book. With Meyer having final approval over what goes into the film and the danger of Twihards howling over any deviation from the source, improving on the novel must have been a Herculean task. (I don't feel bad for the screenwriter, though, since she was handsomely paid for her effort and apparently considered it sufficient reward to return for the sequel.)

In the film, there is no indication that Eric--Hollywoodised into an Asian**--has any interest in Bella. Nor does Tyler, who in my recollection does not appear after apologising in the hospital. (He does appear very early to sexually harass her, but the scene makes it appear he's more into Mike than Bella.) I'm sure the filmmakers explained to Meyer that these flirtations had to be cut for time, but I like to think they were as put-off by the Bella character as I am and tried to trim at least some of these obnoxious moments.

Meyer then proceeds yet again to beat the reader over the head with the 'he moved so fast' business. Here we have confirmation that, not only did bystanders not see what happened, they buy Bella's lies about happened, even though what she says flatly contradicts what at least some of them must have seen. She claims he pulled her out of the way, and none of the dozens of eyewitnesses refutes this. They simply Stepford-chorus that they didn't see Edward at all until it was over.

'You didn't see him push the van away?' she asked incredulously.

Actually, no, she didn't ask that. But I bet with the unnecessary adverb there, you were fooled, if only for a second.

Instead, she wonders 'why no one else had seen him standing so far away'. Her conclusion?

With chagrin, I realised the probable cause--no-one else was as aware of Edward as I always was. No-one else watched him the way I did. How pitiful.

I've read this paragraph a few times, in context, and I can't tell whether Meyer means Bella is pitiful for paying too much attention to Edward or everyone else is pitiful for not paying enough. Context leans towards the former, but the wording strongly implies the latter, and Bella has certainly shown contempt for all the non-Edward people around her (and even Edward gets some contempt on occasion). So I'm going with Bella thinking it's pitiful that everyone doesn't constantly keep track of Edward's location.

That's our Bella.

And so the 'girls have cooties' grade-school boy-girl interaction continues, as Edward resumes sitting next to Bella in biology class

as far away from me as the table would allow, [and] he seemed totally unaware of my presence. Only now and then, when his fists would suddenly ball up--skin stretched even whiter over the bones--did I wonder if he wasn't quite as oblivious as he appeared.

The bloodless corpse turns paler with exertion. Edward comes off more like a creepy guy LARPing a vampire than a genuine creature of the night. I'm also very put off by the 'wasn't' in that last clause. I suppose it's still correct, but man, it goes over as smoothly as a Che Guevera t-shirt at an American Legion meeting.

He wished he hadn't pulled me from the path of Tyler's van--there was no other conclusion I could come to.

I suppose that's true, when you think only of yourself as Bella does. There's 'no other conclusion'; it must have something to do with you.

I wanted very much to talk to him, and the day after the accident I tried. The last time I'd seen him, outside the ER, we'd both been so furious. I still was angry that he wouldn't trust me with the truth, even though I was keeping my part of the bargain flawlessly. But he had in fact saved my life, no matter how he'd done it. And, overnight, the heat of my anger faded into awed gratitude.

Hmm...I'm thinking he might not trust you with the truth because he has no reason to do so. Maybe I'm no longer hip or with-it like the hepcats in high school these days, but I don't reveal intimate details to people with whom I've had precisely one conversation, no matter how angry they might get about it.

He was already seated when I got to Biology, looking straight ahead. I sat down, expecting him to turn toward me. He showed no sign that he realised I was there.

'Hello, Edward,' I said pleasantly, to show him I was going to behave myself.

He turned his head a fraction toward me without meeting my gaze, nodding once, and then looked the other way.

And that was the last contact I'd had with him.

No, you didn't miss anything, and I promise I cut nothing from this page so far. Bella really considers saying 'Hello, Edward' to be trying to talk to him. For someone she dreams about and obsesses over (her words!), that's a pretty limp effort, but apparently it took all the energy she could muster to take any initiative at all. Spent from this exertion, she

...gave no more notice that he existed than he showed toward me. I was miserable.

Here's a thought for how to deal with your misery at not being able to talk to Edward: Talk to Edward. It's worth a shot, I think.

But no, our fauxtagonist has to remain inert while things happen to her. Remember, ladies, there's no need to do stuff when there are males around. They'll do all the stuff. You just sit and look pretty and be all emotional.

Despite my outright lies, the tenor of my e-mails alerted Renee [her mother!] to my depression, and she called a few times, worried.

Five pages ago, Bella doesn't like to lie. Now 'outright lies' are the order of the day. '[T]here'd better be a good reason why I'm doing it,' she told us then.

Well, she can't very well let her mother know she's sad that a boy she won't talk to won't talk to her, can she? I mean, if this got out, where would the trail of bodies end?

*If Meyer showed any awareness at all of the genre she's working in, I'd wonder if this were a 'clever' reference to Aleister Crowley.
**Why, yes, Eric the Asian does end up romantically involved with the only ethnic-looking girl evident in the film. What are the odds of that?

August 25, 2010

Twilight: Look! Up in the sky!

Twilight, pp. 58-67

So, after finding out that Edward's rescue left an Edward-shaped dent in the tan car Bella was nearly smashed against--another dent that no-one but Bella ever notices--we deal with the aftermath.

First, Bella argues with Edward about how he reached her so quickly (and not about how he stopped a speeding van with--okay, okay, sorry) until the ambulance shows up to take her away. Next, her father shows up at the hospital, filled with concern for his daughter, so she does the only appropriate thing: She 'tune[s] him out' so she can think about Edward. Then, the driver of the van is wheeled into place next to her, and he demands to know how Bella was able to get out of the way so fast. I guess I'm confused here, but after having both seen the movie and read the book, it's clear Bella didn't get out of the way at all. Edward got between her and the van and physically pushed it to a stop. Again, though, no-one appeared to take note of this, including Bella herself, despite the fact that the entire parking lot watched this occur. (Note that the van's driver saw Bella quickly move out of the way--ignoring for the moment the fact that she didn't--but failed to notice Edward stop the van with his bare hands.) The driver is apologetic, even though it was an accident and Bella was not seriously injured, so Bella responds by ignoring him as well.

Dr. Cullen puts in an appearance, and...well, I don't have much to say about him. As I noted in a previous entry, the other Cullens are pretty bland and indistinguishable, at least in this first novel. The only giggle-inducing moment is that '[h]e was young', and indeed, in the film he looks practically the same age as Edward. So a man who looks to be in his late twenties at most has adopted a bunch of high-school kids. This doesn't turn any heads, in this small town that supposedly annoys Charlie with its gossip?

They're pretty forgiving up there in Washington.

Dr. Cullen tells Bella she is free to go, so she demands to speak to Edward alone ('Your father is waiting for you,' Edward says, but I think we all know how much weight that statement carries with our Bella) to go over the 'how did you move so fast?' thing again, though at least this time she does toss in that he bench-pressed a van. To add to the hilarity, Edward, who has consistently lied to Bella about where he was standing, balks at lying to her about stiff-arming the van, instead responding with the non-denial 'Nobody will believe that, you know.' That's okay, though, because

'I'm not going to tell anybody.' I said each word slowly, carefully controlling my anger.

Surprise flitted across his face. 'Then why does it matter?'

'It matters to me,' I insisted. 'I don't like to lie--so there'd better be a good reason why I'm doing it.'

Raise your hand if you think he gives her a good reason, or any reason at all. No-one? Good, you've been paying attention. It's even funnier because we know that Bella's definition of a good reason to lie is pretty generous. Plus, and I hate to point this out--oh, who I am kidding?--but in this case, she isn't actually lying. She's choosing not to tell people what she saw, which is understandable since what she saw was impossible and she did suffer head trauma. So far, no-one has asked her, 'Bella, did you see Edward display superhuman strength and speed?' Imagine you saw your boss momentarily float in midair in the middle of the office and then decided not to tell anybody what you thought you'd seen, as none of your co-workers apparently saw it. Is that lying?

This has been such a heart-warming conversation for Edward and Bella that they 'scowl at each other in silence', a silence Bella breaks with a meta-Freudian slip.

'Why did you even bother?' I asked frigidly.

Okay, Novel. If you're going to make the jokes, can I stop reading?

Bella, 'not in the mood for chitchat' such as her father's question, 'What did the doctor say?', 'barely knew Charlie was there' as he takes the ungrateful brat home. She eventually reveals that she is 'consumed by the mystery Edward presented', and I have to admit to be a little intrigued by this mystery as well. Why is he such a colossal jerk? Why does he attend high school? What does he see in an average high school girl that he hasn't encountered in the previous century?

I was consumed by the mystery Edward presented. And more than a little obsessed by Edward himself.

Oh, really? I hadn't noticed.

August 17, 2010

Twilight: When an Irresistible Plot Device Meets an Emotionless Object

Twilight, pp. 53-57

I threw down a quick bowl of cereal and some orange juice from the carton. I felt excited to go to school, and that scared me. I knew it wasn't the stimulating learning environment I was anticipating, or seeing my new set of friends. If I was being honest with myself, I knew I was eager to get to school because I would see Edward Cullen. And that was very, very stupid.

You know, as I go through this book a second time, I hate it a lot more. With the tide of badness washing over you, it's easy to miss the little things. Take this paragraph here.

First, I had no idea the phrase 'throw down' referred to eating. I know its literal meaning, and I know it's a seldom-used euphemism for fighting, but I didn't know people referred to eating food quickly as 'throwing down'. I got a good laugh, though, by my literal reading of the phrase. I pictured Bella, in a chipper mood for the first time in the story, cheerfully making a bowl of cereal and then throwing it on the floor. Then, rather than throwing the carton of orange juice down after it, she pours some juice into her hand and throws that on the floor. Go ahead, picture it. Might as well get some amusement out of this thing. (No, I didn't picture her fighting with her cereal, but that would've been awesome.)

Notice how, yet again, Bella utterly dismisses people she calls friends, who have been nothing but considerate and friendly despite her generally gloomy demeanour and cutting remarks. Maybe this is an accurate portrayal of an average teenager (though I remember liking my friends, and even wanting to see them on occasion), but it comes off as a kind of psychosis. Edward is the only thing that matters, and every other contact is all but shut out. Whenever she's not talking to Edward, she's thinking about Edward, even when other people are talking to her. I don't know how she continues to pass her classes, since she treats schoolwork the same way she treats her friends (as distractions from Edward). In fact, this is yet another point at which I can see an interesting direction the novel might have taken. (Go ahead, try it yourself.) What if Bella, the socially inexperienced girl with excellent marks, falls so hard for Edward that her grades start to slip, jeopardising her future?

But no, that would introduce some conflict into the story, since Edward would then not be perfect for Bella. It really is a mark of how much vampires have been neutered in contemporary culture. Edward can lust for human blood, but he can't cause Bella to get a B in chemistry!

I'm beginning to suspect Charlie is a very private man and is also constantly busy so that Meyer doesn't have to portray Bella shutting him out as she does her friends. Throughout the book (and, I'm given to understand, in future stories as well), Charlie comes off as the most sympathetic character. We see another example of this here:

Charlie had gotten up who knows how early to put snow chains on my truck.

Chief Swan comes off as a decent, loving father, and Bella remains self-centred, deceitful, and ungrateful.

We also see also another instance of Bella's maddening contradictory traits. She breezes through all her classes, an advanced prep, straight-A student, but she is 'scared' because she is 'excited about going to school'.

And I was suspicious of [Edward]; why should he lie about his eyes?

Bella here is referring to Edward's evasiveness about his eyes changing colour--to what end, I've no idea--but I still find it amusing that his lie about not having a chance to introduce himself gets a pass. Then there's this gem:

...Mike's puppy dog behaviour and Eric's apparent rivalry with him were disconcerting. I wasn't sure if I didn't prefer being ignored.

So when Mike sat next to Bella and escorted her to her next class while Eric looked on with jealousy, 'that was flattering', but now the exact same behaviour is 'disconcerting'. What's happened here?

Well you see, Oh My Brothers, now Bella has Edward, who is higher up in the food chain. So now the other two boys' desire for Bella and their rivalry with each other is meaningless, and hence their antics now annoy Bella.

Now we get another moment that made me laugh out loud the first time I saw the
Twilight film. But first, the set-up.

Edward Cullen was standing four cars down from me, staring at me in horror. His face stood out from a sea of faces, all frozen in the same mask of shock. But of more immediate importance was the dark blue van that was skidding, tires locked and squealing against the brakes, spinning wildly across the ice of the parking lot. It was going to hit the back corner of my truck, and I was standing between them. I didn't even have time to close my eyes.
But a lot of other people had time to hear the sound of the brakes, turn to look, recognise what is happening, and assume shocked expressions. Unless 'a sea of' people were already all looking at Bella. And surely that wouldn't be the case.

Just before I heard the shattering crunch of the van folding around the truck bed, something hit me, hard, but not from the direction I was expecting. My head cracked against the icy blacktop, and I felt something solid and cold pinning me to the ground.

I hope you see the romance in 'Edward violently shoves Bella into hard surfaces', because this won't be the last time we'll see it.

I was lying on the pavement behind the tan car I'd parked next to. But I didn't have a chance to notice anything else, because the van was still coming. It had curled gratingly around the end of the truck and, still spinning and sliding, was about to collide with me again.

A low oath made me aware that someone was with me, and the voice was impossible not to recognise. Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van's body.

Wow, two unnecessary adverbs in the same sentence! Meyer has outdone herself. (Plus, 'providentially' is used incorrectly, given what Bella says about the dents [sic] later.) Bella is fine, of course, and there are some words exchanged to this effect, during which Edward speaks in a 'low, frantic voice' and assumes a 'concerned, innocent expression'. Some vampire. When Father Callahan lamented the world no longer had Evil for him to confront, just evil, the vampire Barlow showed him the error of his thinking in 'Salem's Lot's most powerful scene. ('Come, false priest. Learn of a true religion. Take my communion!')* One gets the feeling Callahan's faith would be more than adequate to send Edward fleeing back to his coffin--err, crypt--err, stately Cullen manor just outside of town.

Then we get the novel's version of one of my favourite moments in the
Twilight film:

'How in the...' I trailed off, trying to clear my head, get my bearings. 'How did you get over here so fast?'

'I was standing right next to you, Bella,' he said, his tone serious again.

I'm not sure exactly why I find this exchange so hilarious, but I do. After Edward stops a speeding van with his bare hands, Bella demands to he reached her so quickly. I can't tell you how hard I laughed once I realised she was never going to bring up his superhuman strength and durability, not to Edward or to anyone else. She will pursue him relentlessly about how he got from where she saw him standing to where she was, but she never thinks to herself that it's a wee bit strange that he was able to stop an out-of-control vehicle barrelling towards him just by pushing on it. No, the reason her puzzler hurts is that he seemed to be standing far away. He mentions that she has a concussion and that's why she doesn't realise where he was (frankly, not a bad explanation), but she's convinced.

To be fair, the novel does have Bella bring up his leaving hand-prints in the side of the van from pushing it to a stop, but only later, in the hospital, and after she's harped on the 'how were you there so
fast?' bit.

I'm sorry, but I'd sooner demand an explanation of 'you stopped a speeding van with your bare hands' than 'I thought you were standing over

*We'll just ignore Callahan's appearance in the later
Dark Tower books. Should be easy to do, since after reading the later Dark Tower books, I slammed my head into the desk until I dislodged all memory of them.
**Good thing nobody notices the van has two hand-shaped dents in it, eh?

August 10, 2010

Twilight: Am I Annoying You?

Twilight, pp. 43-50

At last, twenty pages after they met, Our Heroes will speak to each other. Strap yourselves in. It's not going to be pleasant.

'Hello,' said a quiet, musical voice.

I looked up, stunned that he was speaking to me. He was sitting as far away from me as the desk allowed, but his chair was angled toward me....

'My name is Edward Cullen,' he continued. 'I didn't have a chance to introduce myself last week. You must be Bella Swan.'

Again with sitting far away from the icky girl. I guess vampires can still get cooties.

As I mentioned previously, Stephenie [sic] Meyer has a number of the bad habits of a novice writer. I hate to keep pointing them out, but really, as unprofessional a product as this deserves to be called out for this sort of thing. I noted before that Stephen King likely loathes Meyer's writing because it exhibits in spades so many annoying bits of bad writing that his On Writing warns against. This time, I won't go on about the overflowing adverbs (well, not too much). Instead, I'll go with the dialogue words.

King wrote that there is rarely any reason to use any such word besides 'said'. 'She agreed' is a word you use when you're omitting the dialogue in question, not one to be tacked onto the dialogue. Since this is a dialogue-heavy scene, Meyer's egregious misuse of dialogue words slaps you in the face with a living trout. No-one can merely 'say' anything. They must, instead, 'agree', 'disagree', 'continue', 'correct', 'command', 'challenge', 'blurt out', 'persist', 'insist', 'press', 'ask', 'answer', 'reply', 'mutter', 'murmur', 'mumble', 'admit', or 'surmise'. This is in only eight pages, mind you.

This is symptomatic of neophyte fiction writers' confusion of variety with skill. (Neophyte nonfiction writers often confuse obscure words with skill. So do many professors.) Of course, no-one wants to read repetitive writing. But writing the same old crap with different words is still repetitive. The reader should understand from context whether your characters are challenged, persisting, pressing, answering, or admitting. There are exceptions (a character just making the scene might 'bellow' rather than merely 'say' that she killed the hero's brother and is now going to kill him), but generally, less is more. Let the reader infer that a character is surmising, or pressing another character on a point. Describe characters' body language: A character admitting a point may draw back a little, while a character agreeing might nod slightly while speaking. Help the reader visualise your scene. A common mistake in writing is to think the audience won't 'get it'. Of course, being too obscure can also be a problem, but again, less is usually more. At least if you're a little on the obscure side, your reader doesn't feel insulted that you're explaining everything to her like she's in grade school. Trust your reader.

Moving on from the bad writing, let's talk about the reprehensible characters. Notice here that Edward 'didn't have a chance to introduce myself last week'. This is, of course, a bald-faced lie, since Edward had ample time to do this. He met Bella in class, and if he didn't want to talk to her during a lecture (the century-old vampire being intimidated, no doubt, by the aura of authority that emanates from your average public high school teacher), he saw her again in the embarrassing 'put me in a different class' scene. I'm not sure why Meyer wants Romeo's first words to Juliet to form a lie. Even 'We got off on the wrong foot last week' would be better, though it still ignores that Edward was a jerk for no reason. What he really should be saying is, 'I'm sorry I behaved like an utter twat before', but that would require an acknowledgement of imperfection in our Edward.

Bella, naturally, will not call Edward out on this lie since she herself is a chronic fibber. Instead, she likely files this deception away for a future passive-aggressive episode.

The soon-to-be couple then go through the tiresome Bella-Isabella rigmarole one more time and then complete a biology lab assignment together. (Well, not so much 'work together' as 'separately complete the assignment and then try to one-up each other on getting it right'.) The unnecessary adverbs come fast and thick for these two pages, and there's a hilarious bit when he grabs her hand and his fingers both are 'ice-cold' and give her a feeling like 'an electric current', which seems like it would generate a feeling of heat, if only momentarily. Our heroes finish the lab long before anyone else, without error, and correspondingly annoy the teacher, who instantly deduces from this one correctly completed lab that Bella was in advanced placement in Phoenix. Sherlock Holmes has nothing on this biology teacher!

Edward then asks Bella a series of questions, including why she came to Forks. Actually, a few times he asks questions, while at other times he makes assumptions and states them as fact. Some of these are warranted, like his brilliant 'You don't like the cold' when she says she's not unhappy that the snow melted away. Others are not, as when she tells him that her stepfather travels frequently and he assumes that her mother sent her away(!!).

Bella's stepfather is, she tells us, a baseball player. In a moment that made me laugh out loud, Edward asks, 'Have I heard of him?' Yes, Edward Cullen may drink the blood of the living and sleep in a coffin during the day, but he knows his Major League Baseball, hellish unlife or no hellish unlife! Actually, he doesn't drink human blood or sleep in a coffin or even seem affected by daylight, and his unlife, while hellish to me personally (perpetual high school in the Pacific Northwest sounds like something Satan would cook up in anticipation of my demise), doesn't seem like the fate of a damned soul. But he is a vampire. Really.

Sadly enough, that crack about Edward being a baseball fan is...well, that's coming.

Determined to make me loathe the main character further, Meyer has Bella say that her stepfather is not in the major leagues because 'he doesn't play well' (emphasis original) and is therefore '[s]trictly minor league.'

Meyer has some real cajones here, dismissing minor league athletes for being unskilled when she has the writing skills of a penguin with a concussion. Not being in the major leagues doesn't mean one doesn't play well. It means, at worst, that one isn't among the top 1% in the world for that sport. (I won't even get into the huge helping of luck anyone needs to break into the major leagues, in addition to a whole lot of talent.) Take any given player from any minor league in the country, and that person is a better player of her chosen sport than Meyer is a storyteller.

I tried to play ice hockey when I was in my early twenties. I was terrible, but nothing teaches you about any sport like playing it yourself. I played in a pick-up game with a fellow who skated circles around everyone else on the ice. Of the sixteen or so of us taking part in the game, he was clearly at the top, and no-one else was even close. He was good enough that he was eventually offered a spot on a European team. A few weeks later, I saw him go head-to-head with a player from the Columbia Inferno, the local East Coast Hockey League team. The ECHL is on the lowest tier of American professional hockey, below the American Hockey League (which is itself a minor league, below the major league, the National Hockey League). This minor leaguer made the guy from my pick-up game look like he was standing still. He beat him every time, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. The professional player was just as untouchable to him as he had earlier been to the people in the pick-up game I played it. A minor leaguer, part of the lowest level of North America's professional hockey, outclassed every amateur at the local rink by a large margin. Later he played in that rink's amateur tournament (having retired from professional play at this point), and the organisers put all the least skilled and least experienced players on his team as a handicap. His team won the tournament anyway, because he was unstoppable, even by the team the organisers put together made up of all the best amateur players so they would be sure to win.

Minor league players are no joke, and to see a hack writer like Stephenie Meyer dismiss them as untalented when she herself can barely write a grammatical sentence irritates me. Fortunately, Edward acts like a buffoon in the next couple of lines, and my irritation fades as I laugh at the idiocy of the supposedly suave vampire.

'...He moves around a lot.'

'And your mother sent you here so that she could travel with him.' He said it as an assumption again, not a question.

My chin raised [sic] a fraction. 'No, she did not send me here. I sent myself.'

His eyebrows knit together. 'I don't understand,' he admitted...

What's not to understand, you twit? Your first assumption is that a mother sent her daughter away? Sure, that happens, but should that really be your first guess? Maybe Bella didn't want to travel around. Or, as it turns out, she might leave so her mother would be free to travel around. Really, though, what's so hard to understand about 'I sent myself' in this context? Is it the best or even a sensible way to put it? No, but the meaning is pretty clear. I also got a good laugh out of the misuse of the verb 'to raise'. I'm picturing Bella's chin lifting up a giant pink fraction (that fraction being 3/4 in my imagination) against her will while she frantically looks around for someone to help push her chin back down and get the fraction off it.

More pap to make younger readers identify with Bella (that being so much easier to write than 'character' stuff):

His gaze became appraising. 'You put on a good show,' he said slowly. 'But I'd be willing to be that you're suffering more than you let anyone see.'

I swear, it's like Meyer's speaking to me.

'Am I annoying you?' he asked. He sounded amused.

We Are Not Amused.

August 3, 2010

Twilight: Guess Who's Back, Back Again?

Twilight, pp. 37-42
Edward Cullen didn't come back to school.

Every day, I watched anxiously until the rest of the Cullens entered the cafeteria without him. Then I could relax and join in the lunchtime conversation. Mostly it centred around a trip to the La Push Ocean Park in two weeks that Mike was putting together. I was invited, and I had agreed to go, more out of politeness than desire.

So we open in typical Bella fashion: pining for the missing Edward, but still keeping another guy on the line just in case. (To paraphrase Chris Rock, Mike is Bella's Penis In A Glass Case: Open in case of loneliness.) I hope you like this paragraph, because New Moon is just those four awkward sentences stretched into one awkward novel.

In the next paragraph, though, she's fine with Edward not being in Biology and feels '[m]ore comfortable than I had ever expected to feel here.' Of course, as soon as her abuser makes the scene, her heart will again be all aflutter. So she worries about having to deal with him and is happier when he's not there, but she'll be thrilled when he reappears.

I might be getting into some dangerous speculation here, but I think Bella might just be a Drama Queen.

We interrupt this examination of the protagonist's thorough unlikeability for this special look at the novel's bad writing.

Got extra adverbs you've no use for? Trying to get rid of them? Send them over to Stephenie Meyer! She'll find a way to use them, whether they're needed or not!

'I...wrote my mom a bogusly cheerful email.' (Bonus points for inventing an entirely new adverb to use unnecessarily!)
'Haven't you ever seen snow fall before?' he asked

Try to have one per page. And hey, how about nonsensical narration?

Sure, [snow] was drier than rain -- until it melted in your socks.

What does that mean? What does that even mean? Snow, which is water, is drier than rain, which is also water. Huh? Did Paul W.S. Anderson do a draft of this novel? drier than rain. Wow. I can't believe somebody wrote that. Mrs. Meyer failed grade school science, right? I mean, her degree is in English.* So she may not know that ice can no more be drier than water than a cow can be meatier than beef. But the editor should have cau--oh, that's right. I forget sometimes.

Anyway, back to the Bella-bashing.

So Bella, who is totally okay with Edward not being there, immediately checks his table in the cafeteria. (Again, why do the vampires sit in the cafeteria every day not-eating?) To the shock of absolutely no-one, Edward is now there, and Bella of course immediately flips out. (teh drama!) Her friends ask her what's wrong with her. They're asking with, we're told, 'unnecessary concern', even though she stares at the floor, refuses to eat, and tells them she feels sick. I'd say it's time for an intervention by the Drama Police.

[The Cullens] were laughing. Edward, Jasper, and Emmett all had their hair entirely saturated with melting snow. Alice and Rosalie were leaning away from Emmett as Edward shook his dripping hair toward them. They were enjoying the snowy day, just like everyone else--only they looked more like a scene from a movie than the rest of us.

But aside from the laughter and playfulness, there was something different....

Let's ignore yet another unnecessary adverb ('entirely'). Let's ignore the contrast between Bella's inability to remember the names of her supposed friends while she's in conversation with them and her ability to remember and recite the vampires' names after once hearing her friend list them a week ago. I want to focus on two things here: the laughter and *shudder* the playfulness.

Yes, these are two words that immediately spring to mind when I think of vampires. The eternally damned are nothing if not fun-loving types who live unlife to the fullest.

You know, I've had a few people tell me they enjoy Twilight because it's the first time they were exposed to vampires. Every time I hear this, I don't know whether to weep in despair or scream in rage. (Pretty much the same reaction I have to any given Lady Gaga song.) Imagine that you were a huge fan of Jackie Chan, and every once in a while you met another fan. Only these fans' first Jackie Chan movie was The Tuxedo. They've never heard of Police Story or Drunken Master, but man, that Spy Next Door was some great stuff. You're a little crestfallen. The spring goes out of your step. Because not only have these 'fans' only seen Chan at his worst, but now that they have, they may not be able to un-see his worst when--no, if--they ever get round to seeing Armour of God.

That's how I feel every time someone tells me their first exposure to vampires was this trash. Not because it's bad. Yes, it's bad, but that's not enough. No, like Chan in The Spy Next Door, its vampires are nothing like what made them legends. They're not dangerous. They're not menacing. They don't threaten your soul with spiritual destruction, a far greater horror than merely being killed. All the subtext is gone, and with it, all interest. These vamposters are boring.

Oh, and playful. Don't forget playful.

It's one thing to be a pale shadow of your former self. It's another to be something else entirely, with no connection to what you once were.

* No, really! The writer of this tripe has a degree in creative writing. The mind boggles. Now, one of those screenplay classes Charlie Kaufman had to sit through to get ideas for adapting The Orchid Thief--that I could buy. Maybe.

July 22, 2010

Twilight: O Edward, Where art Thou?

Twilight, pp. 29-36

We have arrived at chapter 2. It gets a little better for a while, because Edward is absent. He's already begun to take over the story, since Bella has to moon over him, but at least he's off-screen for a few pages. Still, we have to read about Bella thinking incessantly about a man who has so far acted like an utter tool towards her for no discernible reason.*

First, we get a little reminder of how thoroughly unlikeable our main character is.

Mike came to sit by me in English, and walked me to my next class, with Chess Club Eric glaring at him all the while; that was flattering.

Oh, just ignore the incorrect comma use. And the pretentious (and unnecessary) semicolon. I'm talking about the 'I like it when guys fight over me' attitude. It's all the more interesting because Bella has no interest in these two boys (she will 'successfully evade' Mike when she leaves school for the day), but she's still flattered by one's resentment towards the other. There's an element of foreshadowing here, as Bella will have precisely the same reaction in Book 2 when Jacob Black enters the picture as a romantic rival. (Only in that case, she is interested in both men, so she...well, I'll steal a line from The Foywonder's hilarious and spot-on Eclipse review and say that what she does rhymes with 'rock peas'.) When good writers use foreshadowing, it's intentional, but we're talking Meyer here, so it's probably unconscious (i.e., she only knows one type of twisted relationship behaviour and so that's the one Bella has).

Bella's confidence boost from the jealousy of one person she doesn't want towards another person she doesn't want is disturbing enough, but it's compounded by chapter 2's beginning with day 2 at Forks High. These two boys have known her for at best a couple of hours and have talked to her for, what, five minutes? Ten minutes? Each? And one of them is already shooting the other jealous looks? I feel like I'm reading the Cliff's Notes of The Great Gatsby.

Do I even need to mention that neither of these guys (but especially Eric) got anywhere with Bells on day 1? They didn't exactly hit it off right away.

Bella then proceeds to whine about what makes today worse than yesterday before we reach this bombshell.

And [today] was worse because Edward Cullen wasn't in school at all.

In the name of Great Cthulhu who lies dreaming in the sunken city of R'lyeh, why? I really don't understand this. Why is she sad he isn't there? He's been inexplicably cruel for the whole hour or so that she's seen him. She has never spoken a word to him, nor he to her. Please, someone tell me how this day could possibly be worse than the previous day because the guy who looked at her like he wanted her to die at every opportunity is absent?

Yes, she is clearly physically attracted to him. In fact, as TheSpoonyOne has pointed out in his wonderful reviews of New Moon and Eclipse (warning: strong language), Edward and Bella's attraction never goes beyond the purely physical. We'll delve into this more later, but trust me that these two never share anything deeper than the desire to have sex with one another because they're both hot. (But Meyer is Mormon and, as I noted in my first entry, her writing keeps The Faith even though her characters inexplicably don't profess it, so they Wait.)

This is totally out of place for the goth subculture, which rejects relationships like this, but I'm sure the pseudo-goths eat it up. All the sexy black clothes and dark eye shadow and freedom from having to go outside or exercise without any of that 'hard' stuff like writing bad poetry and suicide attempts.

The next page has Bella ignoring her supposed friends' conversations (get used to it) while she pines for the stranger that looks at her with hate-filled eyes, hoping he will appear to ignore her rather than barely tolerate her very existence or, worse, not appear at all (oh come on, now). This comes complete with the worst simile** I've read in a published novel: 'I made the Cowardly Lion look like the terminator [sic].' Oh, ho! What a hilarious bon mot! How about this one: George W. Bush makes Hitler look like Mother Theresa. Zing!

Blah blah Edward doesn't show up, blah blah Bella 'had no practice dealing with overly friendly boys' (this from a girl with whom this entire school is instantly smitten), blah blah Bella gets home and goes immediately to the kitchen to do her female duty of preparing a meal for her man, that being her father** as she's yet to get hitched. (A Mormon aged seventeen and not engaged? For shame!)

There's also another bit of (presumably unintentional) foreshadowing here. Bella opines that '[i]t seemed excessive of [the Cullens] to have both looks and money.' Money? Where was there any indication the Cullens had--oh, right, the Volvo. Anyhow, remember this bit when I talk about the vampires' powers in a few weeks.

Charlie comes home and he and Bella chat, but not much. Each character is private, we've been told (though indirectly, for once), and they're each more comfortable being silently in the other's presence rather than chatting. This page-and-a-half works okay. It's natural and conveys the emotional distance between father and daughter without having either the characters or the narrator recite clunky exposition. But then the Cullens have to show up and torpedo any sense of realism or humanity.

'Do you know the Cullen family?' I asked hesitantly. [Again with the adverbs!]

'Dr. Cullen's family? Sure. Dr. Cullen's a great man.'

'They...the kids...are a little different. They don't seem to fit in very well at school.'

Charlie surprised me by looking angry.

'People in this town,' he muttered. 'Dr. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon who could probably work in any hospital in the world, make ten times the salary he gets here,' he continued, getting louder. 'We're lucky to have him--lucky that his wife wanted to live in a small town....'

So much wrong in only a few lines. Where to begin?

First, why is Charlie's voice getting louder as he talks? It could be a mark of Charlie's anger issues, just as Edward's future alternating attitudes towards Bella are indicative of his being an abuser, but again, it doesn't come across that way.

Second, what about Dr. Cullen makes him 'a great man'? He's a really good surgeon who gets paid less than he might. Swell. Somebody get Obama on the phone. We've got a Real American Hero here!

Third, in the very last exchange Bella and Charlie had, which happened all of five seconds before this one, Bella mentioned Mike and Charlie instantly declared that Mike was from a 'nice family'. Okay, so you judge Mike's family, but 'people in this town' are wrong for judging the Cullen family. (It's a minor point, but I love that Charlie immediately knows which 'Mike' Bella was talking about when 'Michael' tops the list of American male names, but he adds a 'Dr. Cullen's family?' to make sure she wasn't referring to some other Cullen family in this tiny town.)

Fourth, how does Charlie know that Cullen is a 'brilliant surgeon' who 'could probably work in any hospital in the world'? Surgery isn't exactly a skill that the untrained can easily evaluate. I had a fantastic surgeon in Malaysia who took care of an eye infection I had, but I'm no expert and simply judged him by the ease of that particular procedure. There's no way I would go from 'I thought he was a great surgeon because my operation went off without a hitch' to 'he could work anywhere in the world if he wanted, he's so good.' And in my case, the procedure was observed by my girlfriend, who has had surgical training, and I still wouldn't resort to this level of breathtaking hyperbole. What's Charlie basing his lofty opinion of Dr. Cullen on? I think Charlie has a direct line to the author of the novel.

Fifth, ten times? Now, my mother worked with medical doctors. My close friend's parents are both doctors. These people earn a lot of money. But honestly, ten times is just absurd. I find it difficult to believe that, barring some kind of circumstance that has nothing to do with skill (such as being the personal physician of someone of great wealth), in America, any surgeon in a particular speciality would ever make ten times what another surgeon in the same speciality makes. That means that if Dr. Cullen makes $60,000 (a pretty sad sum for any medical doctor, much less a surgeon), he could be making $600,000 somewhere else. That's what a neurosurgeon makes. Neurosurgeons do not earn $60,000 no matter where they are, unless they're not doing neurosurgery. And if they aren't, then they're doing the world a disservice, since there aren't many people who have the talent to do it, and even fewer who have gone through the extensive training to acquire the necessary skills. If you have a skill the world desperately needs that it took you almost two decades to acquire at great cost in resources that few people can acquire even with the necessary time and'd better use it. Not to do so would be a callous act of inhumanity--but wait, you say, Cullen's a vampire! He is inhuman.

Oh just you wait.

So, Dr. Cullen could make twice what he's making in Forks? Sure. Three times as much? Pushing it, but conceivable. Ten times? This is where Meyer's hyperbole for her nothing characters is particularly embarrassing. Bella can't just be a quirky smart girl who's cute but a little stand-offish; she has to be beautiful and smart and deep, the girl that every boy wants and every girl wants to be. Edward can't be a handsome but socially awkward fellow whose crippling self-doubt makes it difficult for him to establish an intimate relationship; he must be the sexiest boy at school who runs fastest and jumps highest and is strong and brave and reads minds and knows all kinds of stuff about stuff and doesn't want to Even Dr. Cullen can't be just a doctor; he has to be a surgeon in a town too small to need a surgeon (and who appears not to be a surgeon in Forks, instead serving as your typical GP). In fact, he's the bestest surgeon evar, so that he could make ten times what he makes now if he went, y'know, anywhere.

Now if Charlie were just the best cop in the world, who could be making ten times what he makes in Forks if he went to New York City, I do believe all of our characters would be The Best.

So, um, where is the conflict is this story again?


*It should be noted that he will at no point provide any explanation for his behaviour.

** Similes suck anyhow, unless you're Raymond Chandler or part of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 cast. Metaphors are where it's at. And if you're going to reference something, don't make it so obvious. Like the translation of Classical Chinese I just submitted in which I worked in an entirely appropriate 'We will crush the rebellion with one swift stroke!' Now that's how you drop references, Steffy!

*** Because the poor guy, well, you see, he's a man and men can't cook, a-hyuck!