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 resources...you'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 do...you know...it. 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!

July 17, 2010

Twilight: Mirror Universe

Twilight, pp. 25-28.
This week on Twilight (alternate title: Everybody Loves Bella), we're introduced to Mike, who loves Bella. This poor kid makes you feel bad for him from his very first appearance, because, clearly unprepared for Bella's manipulations, he has no idea what's in store for him. He's friendly and polite--already a bad sign--though a little lacking in tact.

I looked up to see a cute, baby-faced boy, his blond hair carefully gelled into orderly spikes, smiling at me in a friendly way. He obviously didn't think I smelled bad....He was the nicest person I'd met today.

But as we were entering the gym, he asked, 'So, did you stab Edward Cullen with a pencil or what? I've never seen him act like that....He looked like he was in pain or something.'

'I don't know,' I responded. 'I never spoke to him.'

'He's a weird guy.' Mike lingered by me instead of heading to the dressing room. 'If I were lucky enough to sit by you, I would have talked to you.'

I smiled at him before walking through the girls' locker room door. He was friendly and clearly admiring.

That's our Bella--keep it vague, keep 'em guessing, never let them pin you down to anything. The number one rule of emotional manipulation is never let anyone know your true motives.

So, despite Mike's entirely inappropriate reference to Edward's absurd behaviour and his rather too eager 'I woulda talked to you', he's 'the nicest person I'd met today', and Bella likes him because 'he obviously didn't think I smelled bad', as Edward seems to. So from Mike she seeks validation of her attractiveness, a boost to her self-esteem that her abusive boyfriend has shaken, but Bella will set him up with Jessica because, as Jessica's good friend, Bella will allow her to take a partner she herself has rejected. Mike is attracted to Bella because, well, everyone is, but he's lacking something, that sort of open contempt for her and indifference to human emotion that Bella finds so captivating.

This is where the author's lack of touch with anything resembling a normal teenage experience comes out. I've no idea if Mrs. Meyer had such an experience, but if she did, her writing shows no evidence of this. My high school experience was typical (summers in Rangoon, luge lessons), though I share neither the joy of having escaped it nor the nostalgia for it that seem to comprise the two most common American attitudes towards high school.

But I do remember that high school was all about cliques. You were in one whether you wanted to be or not. No-one reading this is going to be surprised which clique I ended up in: the gamers. I was one of the first at my high school to have Internet access (and before that, local bulletin boards). In computer programming class, I was the unofficial teaching assistant. I played Dungeons and Dragons on the tabletop, wrote fantasy fanfiction, and sparred occasionally with swords.

One of the hallmarks of high school cliquishness is that cliques rarely crossed lines. The smokers had their area of the school, and everybody else made fun of them...from a distance. I had a middle school friend who ended up in their clique, which essentially marked the end of the friendship. None of his friends would've welcomed me, nor mine him. (I'm sure they made fun of us, too.) The jocks had their clique, and gangsters theirs, and the 420-friendly smokers theirs.

So the most popular girl in school was really the one who appealed to the most cliques. I remember not being at all enamoured with my high school's Most Popular Girl. I was much more interested in the salutatorian and, before that, the eventual valedictorian of the rival high school in our district. That is, girls who were closer to my clique. (My high school was sadly lacking in gamer girls.)

Twilight's high school is, thus, a completely foreign place to me, where the rules are all different. I'm half-recalling a line from an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, something like 'A perverted world, where the spazzes make fun of the cool guys.' That's what Forks High is, high school turned upside down, where the geeks are popular and the cool kids can't get dates. Bella is not the kind of girl who should be the darling of the school, because she's in the angsty-emo-goth clique. There she would be highly sought after (with her manipulations being just another part of the package), but outside of it, she'd be...well, she'd be regarded precisely in the way Mike views Edward. 'She's a weird girl' he would say to Jessica not long before he asks her out, because Mike and Jessica are in the same clique, and so he would actually find her attractive. He shouldn't need Bella to point this out, and he shouldn't be interested in anything Bella has to say on this or any other matter.

This is where Meyer wants to have her cake and eat it, too. She wants her fauxtagonist to be quirky and deep but also widely popular, forgetting or ignoring that depth and quirkiness aren't popular. The good-looking pretty types (Mike) aren't interested in moody, antisocial types like Bella. They're more interested in people like themselves. People closer to, or in, their own clique.

Of course, high school romances are often about love that jumps cliques. In fact, the story might have been interesting if Bella actually did end up with Mike, with Edward being the one everybody (including Edward himself) assumes she'd go for. Bella and Mike could run into constant trouble because their expectations and the worlds they inhabit are so vastly different. Edward and Jessica would be the obstacles here, representing the safer, conformist alternatives to the difficulties of making their relationship work. But Bella just has that something that Mike can't ignore (just pretend that, in this alternate universe, Bella actually has something), and even though he finds it easier--more practical--to be with Jessica (just as Bella finds her relationship with Edward easier), love keeps drawing them back together, and the story ends with the beginnings of their finding a way to engage in each other's worlds and with a new appreciation for each other's distinctive outlook.

But enough about a potential good story. Instead, we've got to get the emo princess hooked up with the emo prince, with no real obstacles, and we've got to stretch it over four books.

Good lord.

Even according the rules of Meyer's parallel universe, Mike's reaction to Edward's shenanigans is all wrong. This is part of Meyer's persecution complex (hmm...Mormonism popping up?). Everybody must love Bella, because she's fabulous, but they must also look at her in awe and regard her with suspicion, because she's so, like, deep and different and stuff. So when a man she has never seen before in her life flips out when she shows up, not only does she immediately have to blame herself, but so do other people who already regarded the Cullens as freaks. This just doesn't make sense on a human level. If I'm a high schooler who sees the school's nutjob have an episode when the New Girl sits next to him, how could my first reaction be I wonder what she did to him? It's nonsensical. I'd think something more like God, that Cullen's got serious issues.

This is how that exchange would've gone in the real world:

He was the nicest person I'd met. Just as we got to the gym, he said without looking at me, 'I, uh, saw what happened with Edward Cullen.'

'Oh.' My cheeks turned a little red. Just a little. 'You did?'

'Yeah.' He looked at me now. 'Look, he's really strange. I don't know what his problem is, but he acts like that sometimes. Don't let him get to you. Who knows what was going on in his head?'

Or something like that. Mike should be blaming Edward, since Edward is so clearly in the wrong here. Now, it might work if Edward was the small-town boy who had lived in Forks his whole life and Bella was the big-city newcomer that all the students resented for her contempt for their small-town customs. But in Twilight, it's already been established that Everybody Loves Bella and the Cullens are regarded as weirdos. So why is the nicest person Bella has met today immediately siding with Edward, accusing Bella of having done something to cause Edward to react as he did?

Bella comes upon Edward in the school's main office, trying, and failing, to get out of the class he shares with Bella. (How, oh my brothers, could this 'vampire' stand to attend high school every day for decades?)

Edward Cullen's back stiffened, and he turned slowly to glare at me--his face was absurdly handsome--with piercing, hate-filled eyes.

Makes a girl's heart melt, don't it?

July 10, 2010

The Book of Eli

Okay, I know a Twilight post was due today, but I couldn't wait. I simply must tell you about the Hughes brothers' The Book of Eli, an embarrassing Frankenstein's Monster of a post-apocalyptic film, a genre I happen to love, thank you very much. Reading and watching a few reviews and checking out Rotten Tomatoes, it seems some people have got it into their heads that this movie is not bad. They are sadly mistaken. The Book of Eli is what you get if you take the Mad Max films and spaghetti westerns and put them in a blender, with a dash of The Postman for that extra flavour of Costnerian derivative tripe. Readers who come to this blog to take in Twilight-bashing by a semi-competent half-educated hack are free to skip to the real entry coming up next week. Those wishing to hate on a crappy Denzel Washington movie, read on.

The Book of Eli (alternate title: Neo: The Road Warrior) follows Denzel Washington as Eli, a fellow who treks through a post-apocalyptic wasteland carrying a book. He has been taking the book west, on foot, for thirty years, where it will find an appropriate place to work its magic. Eli is one of the few left who remember what the world was like before the unspecified nuclear holocaust that left most of the people who lived through it blind, and since he is both an unstoppable killing machine and a literate man, he is extremely valuable to the small-time overlord played by Gary Oldman, who only lusts after him more once he discovers that Eli is carrying the very book Oldman has been searching for since the nuclear fire rained down three decades ago.

Why you would hire actors of the caliber of Oldman and Washington and then give them nothing to do, I can't say, and I'm not sure the directors, the brothers Hughes, can, either. Then again, Oldman was in both Bram Stoker's Clearly Not Dracula and Hannibal, so he's no stranger to giving good performances in cinematic train wrecks. For Eli, he digs his performance in The Fifth Element out of the closet and dons it once more, and that's okay, because nothing else in the movie is original.

I've seen reviewers praise this film for its innovative re-setting of the Western in a post-apocalyptic world. These reviewers must have just lived through their own world-destroying "flash" that made them forget what happened thirty years ago, or they'd know The Road Warrior did this back in 1981. In fact, there's nothing in this movie that wasn't done better in The Road Warrior. I can't believe we're still ripping off The Road Warrior after a full three decades, and the Hughes brothers aren't even Italian! Is the post-apocalyptic genre so dead that even A-list filmmakers can only make the same movie over and over, minus all the colorful villains, moral ambiguity, and heart-pounding driving sequences? Can't we just get Beyond Thunderdome? Face it, Hughes Brothers. You can't do "living off the corpse of the old world" better than the Australians, the undisputed masters of modern society fallen into pseudo-medieval chaos. Aping George Miller just makes baby Jesus cry. (Yes, Neil Marshall's Doomsday, I'm looking at you.)

But the Hughes brothers don't just steal from The Road Warrior. I'll leave the Sergio Leone lifts alone, since it's hard to make a Western without ripping off Leone. (Unforgiven manages to pull this off, one of the reasons that film ranks among the greatest of Westerns.) It's too bad that, in stealing from Leone, they didn't also steal some of Ennio Morricone's music, since the music in The Book of Eli is atrocious. Never mind that, though, we've got some ripping-off of (sigh) The Matrix to do. It's not in the way the action sequences are shot. (Thank the Buddha, there's no bullet-time.) It's that instead of ripping off Leone's unstoppable gunslinger, who defeats his enemies through his superior fighting skill, the Hughes brothers ripped off Neo, who wins fights by bending time and space to his will.

Mad Max was not a superhero. He had a gun loaded with rounds that didn't work, and he was badly injured when he wrecked his car. He survived more through brains and driving skill than through brawn and endless rounds of ammunition, and his life was saved both by a guy who built a flying tricycle and by a kid who threw a boomerang more dangerous than Xena: Warrior Princess's chakram. Eli, on the other hand, is Neo. The guy is literally untouchable. Remember the final battle in the original Matrix, in which Neo nonchalantly beats the hell out of Agent Smith? Now imagine Neo was like that through the whole movie, and you have Eli. He whips out an ungainly, impractical serrated blade and effortlessly cuts multiple opponents to pieces, all without raising an eyebrow or the film's tension, since Eli is not only unbeatable but knows he's unbeatable, as if he read the script and knows he makes it to the end of the film. Nobody lays a glove on him, even the wasted Ray Stevenson, who towers over Denzel and outweighs him by a good forty pounds (and it ain't fat). Stevenson's character shoots Eli from behind and the bullet penetrates the leather collar of Denzel's jacket, directly behind his neck, but Eli is unscathed. (Where did the bullet go?) Moments later, Pullo draws a bead on Eli, who is standing perhaps twenty feet away doing absolutely nothing, yet Stevenson doesn't fire, instead allowing DenzEli to stroll casually out of boss Oldman's faux-Bartertown. Why? Because if he pulled the trigger, Eli would be dead and the movie would be over. Though later, Oldman does shoot Eli with a gigantic pistol from point-blank range and he doesn't die or even stop walking west, so I guess that shows what I know about the human body's ability to absorb damage from high-caliber firearms. How is Eli able to survive being gutshot with a hand cannon? Because "it's faith, it doesn't have to make sense."

No, seriously, that's a directly quote from the movie. Apparently, in some quarters, this movie is seen as some kind of statement of religious faith. Now, maybe I can't understand this movie because I'm a godless heathen who has some conception of the laws of physics, conventions of storytelling, and half an understanding of cinema, but The Book of Eli has six impossible things happen before breakfast with the only excuse being that faith doesn't have to make sense, and we're supposed to swallow this plot convenien--err, I mean, bold proclamation of religious faith. If I were religious, I'd be insulted. "Hey, Hughes brothers", hypothetical religious me would say, "just because I'm religious doesn't mean you can invoke faith to excuse lazy writing." But that's exactly what Eli does. Faith doesn't have to make sense, and neither does The Book of Eli. The entire narrative builds up to a moment in which Eli loses and is killed by the villain...only he doesn't die and instead goes on to win (told ya he's Neo), because God--or His representatives, the Hughes brothers--said so. If you're mad that this is a spoiler, trust me, it's not. If you watch the film--and God help you if you do--you won't believe for one second that Eli will die in this scene. It's painfully obvious that the filmmakers don't have the guts to be honest with their material and will somehow find a way for Eli to win, even if it amounts to them effectively walking in front of the camera and saying, "Nah, let's not end the film like this, eh?"

Most (all?) reviews of The Book of Eli tell you what book it is, and that's no spoiler, since a brain-damaged aardvark could figure it out within the first fifteen minutes of this soul-crushingly long movie (if the title doesn't give it away right out of the gate). Now, I'm no fan of Eli's book, the Bible, but despite the movie's strained attempt to explain why it's so rare, I never for a moment believed that possibly the world's most printed book would be so hard to come by. In fact, despite the film's claim that people blamed religion for the nuclear holocaust and so systematically destroyed all the Bibles after The Bomb (as if the film portrays a society that retains enough cohesion to systematically do, well, anything), you can't buy that there's only one copy left. What, mobs of blind people and illiterates went through every motel in the United States, located the Bible in every room in every motel, and burned them all? Every bookstore? Every library? Every home? (No, not every home would have a Bible, but how would you know which ones did unless you checked them all?)

And really, in the event of a nuclear apocalypse, the Bible would be even more treasured and valued than it is now. The Hughes brothers, for all their piety in creating this film, seem shockingly naive when it comes to how the Bible would be treated in a post-apocalyptic world, so naive that even the infidel--i.e., me--can point at their naivety and laugh. More, Eli refuses to let anyone even see the book and kills to protect it, which goes against the message of at least the New Testament as I understood it. (The film's ending 'twist'--not even all that twist-y--renders Eli's behavior in this completely nonsensical and makes God come off as a sadistic murderer.)

Must I even go through the myriad plotholes? How does the impossibly immaculate female lead (Mi Laku Nis) manage to escape from the room Eli locks her in? How does she subsequently manage to end up ahead of Eli, who continued west after locking her up, and without passing him on the road? How could it possibly have taken Eli thirty years to walk to the west coast of the United States? Can George Miller sue all these horrible knockoffs of his post-apocalyptic masterpieces? Why does Eli's God not want him to save a woman from a brutal gang-rape, when he has God-given(?) superpowers and immunity to harm that would allow him to defeat her attackers in a matter of seconds and continue on his way? (He's been walking for thirty years, so God doesn't seem in any big hurry.) Why hasn't Malcolm McDowell fired his agent, already? Why is the Ray Stevenson character's final scene so retarded? How can knowledge of what the pre-apocalyptic world was like have so thoroughly vanished in a mere thirty years? Why, after establishing that people born before The Bomb can read and have valuable skills, are there no scenes of how important these people are to the functioning of what's left of society?* Which George, Romero or Miller, has been ripped off more, and does the winner change if we only count Italy? Where does Eli keep the mountains of spare ammunition he goes through in various firefights?

The performances are generally okay, but no-one stands out. Oldman, as noted, is a less flamboyant version of his Fifth Element villain, so low-key that he never seems menacing despite his frequent brutality to women. Washington gamely tries to create a character, but he has nothing to work with. We learn absolutely nothing about Eli throughout the course of the movie. What did he do in the old world? How did he learn his incredible fighting skills? Did he have a family, and what happened to them? We never find out. He hears God talk to him, he walks west, he kills a lot of people. That's all there is to his character. Washington isn't very adept at the action stuff, and his acting talent and charisma are smothered by the character's lack of a third or even a second dimension, so again, why was he hired? Poor Ray Stevenson. The guy has shown he can act, but he keeps getting nothing parts like this one and the lead in that godawful Punisher sequel. Somebody get this man a good role! Mi Laku Nis plays herself, i.e., generic and unmemorable. Oh, and Jennifer Beals has a role as a woman who gets her hair pulled a lot.

What's left to say about The Book of Eli? Nothing, I suppose. I wonder about the next film that will be ripped off for three solid decades. Nothing in the '90s seems a likely candidate but The Matrix, which came out at the end and so still has another twenty years to go. Will the imitation Lord of the Ringses last like those of Aliens or The Terminator, whose rip-off machines are still going strong after almost thirty years?

Still, there is a tiny ray of hope to be gleaned from The Book of Mad Max: Maybe it will inspire a few people to discover the original Mad Max films. Hey, it happened to me when The Road Warrior showed up in theaters in 1995, under the title Waterworld.
* I'm recalling a passage from The Stand in which a character explains why wars would be fought between settlements over who gets control of a doctor, say, or a mechanic, two professions whose skills are not easily learned without a skilled guide. But then, Stephen King was thinking about how a post-apocalyptic world would actually function, while the Hughes brothers are concerned only with how such a world would look on screen.

July 9, 2010

Twilight: Meet...Cute?

Twilight, pp. 23-24

Tracy and Hepburn. Romeo and Juliet. Han and Leia. Edward and Bella.

Now, I'm not your man when it comes to romantic comedies (or dramas). But the great thing about being an aficionado of bad films is that I enjoy badness in any genre. (Except bad comedies. Those are pure pain. I watched The Hangover on a plane last week and I was praying we would crash into the ocean.) And in order to appreciate bad films, you have to know what they're doing wrong, which means you have to know how it should be done. So I know that the Meet Cute is a key part of the romance. If it's wrong, only a master could salvage the rest of the romance. Maybe.

Here we have a prime example of Doing It Wrong, and I'm afraid we're in less than masterful hands when it comes to saving it.

Bella comes into her biology class, and things go well with the teacher. Alas, there is but one seat remaining in the room, and it's the one next to...Edward! (I feel like I should pause and add an ! every time I write his name. Read the book and you'll see why. On second thought, don't.)

In a good romance--that is, one that doesn't centre on creepy, controlling misogyny--the Meet Cute is not the place for creepy, controlling misogyny. I can think of no better way to torpedo a romance than to make the romantic leads thoroughly unlikable when they meet. It's one thing to write your leads as flawed, realistic human beings. An uncommon choice, but a workable one. It's quite another to do this:

Just as I passed, [Edward] suddenly went rigid in his seat. He stared at me again, meeting my eyes with the strangest expression on his face--it was hostile, furious....I didn't look up as I set my book on the table and took my seat, but I saw his posture change from the corner of my eye. He was leaning away from me, sitting on the extreme edge of his chair, and averting his eyes like he smelled something bad. Inconspicuously, I sniffed my hair.

Okay, I quoted that last line for laughs. I don't know why, but 'I sniffed my hair' always makes me guffaw. If I feared I were giving off a bad smell, I wouldn't check it right in front of someone. I'd excuse myself and check it out, if it were so bad. I can't even imagine why her hair would stink, or why his looking away from her would make her think she stinks. (Surely there are any number of reasons someone would look in a different direction. Whichever way he looks, he's going to smell her just the same.) It's even funnier in the movie, in which you plainly see just how 'inconspicuously' one can do this.

And do I even need to mention the unnecessary adverb at this point?*

Seriously, though, this is their Meet Cute? Her sniffing her hair and him sitting on the edge of his seat like a fifth-grader who doesn't want to get cooties? Okay, I could maybe forgive them as high schoolers, but Edward is over one hundred years old. This is another point I fear I might belabour, but really, there is nothing at all that makes him strike the reader as someone with that kind of life (un-life?) experience. He is a centagenarian, of a sort, but he seems firmly trapped in the mental space of junior high. This might work as a weakness of the vampire, a variation of one of Stoker's themes: The vampire is powerful, but he doesn't grow, and eventually the changing world will render him obsolete. But when we get to New Moon (oh my brothers, the sacrifices I've made for you), we get Bella mourning her aging because it will be hard for Edward to love an old lady, not because Bella will mature while Edward stays forever mentally fourteen...err, seventeen. I mean seventeen.

Anyhow, perhaps some ladies can help me out in the comments, but I'm having trouble understanding why Bella is instantly smitten with a man whose first look at her is filled with anger. Do you find a man's fuming at your existence attractive? Me, I'd sort of talk to the principal about it.

But wait! I said there was a controlling element in this Meet Cute, right? That's because earlier, when they were still in the cafeteria, Edward seemed to smile at our Bella.

I bit my lip to hide my smile. Then I glanced at him again. His face was turned away, but I thought his cheek appeared lifted, as if he were smiling, too.

So after their little peek-a-boo game, Edward seems to smile at her, but here, he's hateful towards her for no reason at all. (Supposedly yet another Twilight novel explains that this is because of his desire to rip out her throat and drink her red, red kroovy while letting out a Schwarzeneggerian howl of triumph, but Bella doesn't know this.)

He was glaring down at me again, his black eyes full of revulsion.

One minute he's smiling at her, another he's 'full of revulsion'.

Get used to it. That's Edward's game.**
*The answer, of course, is yes. I have to mention at least one, since I've refrained from going on about all the others. '...I was watching him surreptitiously.' Okay, okay, I'll stop.

**Not to be confused with Ender's Game, a good little novel. And Orson Scott Card is Mormon, too, though his praise of Meyer and hatred of Pulp Fiction are a bit suspect.