November 27, 2012

From Paris with Love

From Paris with Love is a derivative pile of crap. By which I mean it's a Luc Besson picture.

Those of you who don't know Luc Besson are probably happy and well-adjusted individuals who will be worse off for finding out, but nevertheless, I will enlighten you: He's the French Dino de Laurentiis. Okay, that doesn't help for most of you....What I'm saying is that his good-to-crap ratio is terrible, yet people somehow continue to remember Leon and forget Kiss of the Dragon, The Messenger, and Lockout. His professional goal appears to be proving the French are every bit the equal of Hollywood when it comes to producing soulless, derivative action movies. He also got an endorsement as a great filmmaker from Armond White, which is kind of like getting praise from Hitler. Okay, I'm sorry, that wasn't fair at all. Hitler at least had some taste.

I'll give Besson this, though: He doesn't make mediocre pictures. His involvement almost guarantees the film will be pretty good or a catastrophic train wreck. In case you can't tell from its stupid name, From Paris with Love falls squarely into the latter camp. In the patented delusional state that characterize people like this, both Besson and star John Revolta are interested in making this crap into a film series, despite its being a box office disaster reviled by critics and given a token release in North America solely to avoid the dreaded "direct-to-DVD" label. Then again, John Revolta still hopes to make a sequel to Battlefield Earth, the greatest wide-release turkey of the last twenty years, so no further evidence is needed to demonstrate that involvement in Scientology destroys any connection to reality.

The film opens with a bait-and-switch, pretending in the first twenty minutes that it's a sophisticated spy thriller. James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, whose name irritates me because I'm always a little crestfallen when I realize it doesn't say John Rhys-Davies) is the mild-mannered aid to the Imperial ambassador to France, but he's also trying to break into the spy business. We see him get a call from his handler, never identified, who gives him some low-level tasks to carry out in relation to his position at the embassy. As Reese does the spy stuff--planting bugs in offices and the like--it's clear he's much more into the whole spy thing than into his day job, and he pushes the CIA sp00k to give him cooler things to do. Sp00k decides tonight's the night to see if Reese can hang in the big leagues and gives him a real assignment: He is to go to the airport to meet the hilariously monikored Sam Wax (Revolta) and be his sidekick while he completes a job.

Once Wax appears, the whole spy angle goes right out the window as the movie turns into Pulp Fiction remade as a cookie-cutter buddy cop film, with Wax and Reese shooting up the whole of Paris as they bring down a group of drug lords. Wax is simultaneously the best and worst thing about the film: worst because he's totally unbelievable as a highly-trained special forces badass, with his ridiculous shaved head and goatee and Tarentino-esque quirky love for McDonald's hamburgers; best because he's played by Revolta, wildly camping it up as he always will if you let him and looking fabulous in his ridiculous shaved head and goatee.

Wax is introduced shouting obscenities to the French customs officer refusing to allow him to bring copious quantities of his favorite energy drink into the country. This officer, instead of just shipping his ignorant ass back to wherever he came from or tossing him into a French prison somewhere--it's not like Wax is even officially working for the Imperial state--continues to patiently explain that bringing in food products is illegal and that Wax can buy the drink in Paris anyway, all while Wax screams obscenities at him.

This is a very weird scene. Here is Besson, a Frenchman who continues to work in France and produce French films, writing a scene in which the violent, rude, abusive American behaves appallingly to a Frenchman, whose response is eminently reasonable considering the abuse being heaped upon him, yet when the scene ends (Reese appears and slaps "diplomatic" stickers on the energy drinks, making them immune to customs), instead of getting angry that Americans have once again used their power to bully another country into getting their way, Besson means for us to fist-pump that this stodgy old bureaucrat has been put in his place by our rebellious cop-who-doesn't-play-by-the-rules. And we can't say that the producers monkeyed with his script, because Besson is also one of the producers. He either wrote this scene himself or read it after his co-writer wrote it and said, "Yep, put that in our film!"

It reminds me of the embarrassing scene with Chris Tucker accusing a casino employee (Saul Rubinek) of racism in Rush Hour 2. Tucker is angry and abusive for no good reason (he's only running a distraction so Jackie Chan can secretly go somewhere he isn't supposed to), and Rubinek, being both innocent and entirely awesome, responds calmly and politely, which only makes Tucker look like more and more of an ass as the scene goes on. Yet it's clear from the way the scene is shot and from Tucker's *cough* performance that we're supposed to find his antics hilarious and Rubinek's patient, honest denials as his stodgy-white-guy bafflement at Tucker's "black" fast-talking. Look, Besson, you might treat "the help" this way on your million dollar boat or whatever, but don't write a scene forcing me to watch somebody screaming obscenities for no reason at a person just trying to do her job. I'm not interested in your rich-people problems, ya wanker.

It turns out Wax was so adamant about his drinks because concealed among the cans is his pistol, a Sig Sauer because that's what Vincent used, and Collateral ain't gonna rip off itself! Reese declares that he's been "authorized to get you any weapon you need" (by whom?), but Wax isn't having any gun but his personal weapon. From this point on, the movie is just a bunch of *sigh* Matrix-rip-off shoot-outs and tedious imitation Pulp Fiction banter between the perpetually perplexed Reese and the collected, wise-cracking Wax. Revolta even does his "Royale with Cheese" line, just in case we didn't get that this movie is a Pulp Fiction-wannabe. Well, it could be worse, it could be a Michael Bay rip-off. Oh wait, that was Battleship. King Henry is fine in his role, though since he's playing the straight man to Terl's camp-tastic extravaganza, it's hard to notice his work. I don't know anybody else in this film, and after seeing their work here, I don't especially want to.

There's a hilarious scene that has Wax doing some of the cocaine they got from a raid right on a crowded trolley and forcing Reese to do some as well, claiming that being a little high will give them an edge. As Reese starts to trip out--or whatever the hell you call it when you do cocaine--Wax reveals they aren't going after this particular drug ring for the original reason Wax gave him, but because it's a money-making operation for terrorists. Reese reacts in utter shock to this, because...uh, I don't know. What difference does it make? They're going to terminate the drug kingpins with extreme prejudice either way. Why didn't Wax tell him the truth from the start? What was with the cover story? Hell if I know. I guess they just remembered at this point that they pitched this movie as a spy caper, so they'd better include some kind of plans-within-plans, whether it makes any sense or not.

I try to be fair to these things where I can, though, and even in something this derivative and lazy, I can find a few things I liked. Despite how much I bashed (deservedly) the movie for mostly abandoning the spy angle, there is a nod to the espionage plot towards the end of the movie that is pretty fun, though I won't spoil it here. As noted, being the admirer of egregious overacting I am, I loved every moment of Revolta's scenery chewing. He's not quite on the level of being trained to conquer galaxies while you were still learning to spell your name, but then even Nicolas Cage might never reach such delirious heights. As I noted, King Henry is actually pretty solid as Reese. There's a scene in which he has to speak several lines of dialogue in Mandarin, and I was genuinely shocked when he actually spoke the lines correctly. As in, I could understand the words he spoke, unlike say, every actor "speaking" Mandarin in Firefly. I don't know if he's actually learned a little of the language or if he was so dedicated to the cinema classic that is From Paris with Love that he went to the trouble of spending the weeks or months it would take to sound like he did, but either way it's impressive. (Though if it's the latter option, it's also a little sad, since that would make him more dedicated to the movie than anyone else involved, including Besson, who couldn't be bothered to do even cursory research into how the CIA actually operates.)

Oh, and I hardly ever recognize men as attractive--I normally have to ask friends if a particular guy is handsome or not--but I have to say that Rhys Meyers is distractingly good-looking. Like, as in, it's hard to listen to what he's saying good-looking. It's easy to see why Anne Bolelyn lost her head over him. (Get it? Lost her head? Oh bite me, it's fun!)

Still, it all ends in a silly car chase and shoot-out, with Wax blowing up a speeding car with a rocket launcher, as ghost CIA operatives are wont to do. This car chase includes my favorite character in the movie, Wax's driver, unseen until this point. This guy never speaks a line and calmly pulls off whatever insane car stunt Wax demands of him, all without a single complaint or mistake. If only Besson had hired His Stathamness for this role, this would've been the greatest scene ever.

In the end, not only is the Imperial ambassador not at all put out that his right-hand man Reese was using his position to spy for the CIA, but despite Wax and Reese killing dozens of French citizens and blowing up a number of cars and buildings, the French authorities are okay with it, since the bad guys' plan was foiled.

The film ends with Wax and Reese riding off into the sunset together, only this time Reese is packing his very own Desert fucking Eagle.

November 25, 2012

Twilight: Unreliable

Twilight, pp. 152-156.

Jess drove faster than the Chief, so we made it to Port Angeles by four. It had been a while since I'd had a girls' night out, and the estrogen rush was invigorating. We listened to whiny rock songs while Jessica jabbered on about the boys we hung out with. Jessica's dinner with Mike had gone very well, and she was hoping that by Saturday night they would have progressed to the first-kiss stage. I smiled to myself, pleased.

Our Bella is glad her friend is getting on the rebound the man she herself rejected. I'm sure she finds the whole thing amusing. I'm surprised she doesn't flat-out tell Jessica that Mike only asked her out because Bella turned him down, since Mike hasn't shown any interest in Jessica at this point. You might say that we wouldn't know since Bella doesn't register any male interest in anyone except herself, but I would counter with Mike's confused reaction when Bella suggests Jessica to him.We're also back in our comfort zone of Jessica "jabbering on" and Meyer's clunky, unnatural narration ("first-kiss stage", "estrogen rush"), but I have to wonder what Jessica's waiting for, here. Honey, this isn't a blind date. You've known this guy for a long time, and you've obviously been pining for him for a while, too. I don't think one kiss is exactly moving too fast. Of course, in Stephenie Meyer's Mormon-tacular universe, maybe it's Mike who's refusing to get to first base. You know, because of his True abstinence Love for Jessica that he discovered deep in his heart only moments after Bella turned him down.

But wait, whoa, hold on a minute. "Jess"? When did she become "Jess"? Bella has never once listened to anything Jessica has had to say that wasn't about Edward. As I pointed out before, Jessica's only dialogue printed in the book is Edward-related. Any other time, she, well, she "jabbers on". Bella hasn't done anything with her outside of pretending to listen to her at school. Jessica was at the beach thing, but Bella went there on Mike's invitation and never spoke to Jessica once during the whole thing. This is a girl she's known for two months and has continually ignored over that entire period....and now all of a sudden she's "Jess"? Get real.

Oh well, to be fair, Jessica does get some dialogue here that isn't about Edward. Instead, it's about how Bella is a character who doesn't make sense on her own terms:

Both Jessica and Angela seemed surprised and almost disbelieving when I told them I'd never been to a dance in Phoenix.

"Didn't you ever go with a boyfriend or something?" Jess asked dubiously as we walked through the front doors of the store.

"Really," I tried to convince her, not wanting to confess my dancing problems. "I've never had a boyfriend or anything close. I didn't go out much."

"Why not?" Jessica demanded.

"No one asked me," I answered honestly.

That's right, it's once again time to indulge Meyer's penchant for having it both ways. Bella, the girl that every boy wants and every girl wants to be, has never had a boyfriend "or anything close" (whatever that means). And why not? Because she's uppity and judgemental and thoroughly unlikeable? No, silly, it's because no-one asked. At a (presumably) relatively large public high school in Phoenix. Sure, every male we've seen in Forks has asked or will ask her out (except Edward, but when he's ready to take her out, he'll tell her), but apparently she was a social pariah in Phoenix. I guess Arizonans have an inborn hatred for transparent wish-fulfillment author self-insertions.

I do like that Bella "answered honestly". I could lambast this as yet another example of Meyer's egregious overuse of adverbs or of her pathological fear of using the word "said" in her dialogue, but I'd prefer to think Meyer's finally starting to catch on that Bella does like to lie and so she needs to point out that Bella is actually telling the truth here. But to no avail, since even Jessica's not buying it.

[Jessica] looked sceptical. "People ask you out here," she reminded me, "and you tell them no."

I think we might have an instance of Meta-Jessica here. Somehow, despite Meyer's incredible writing ineptitude, she accidentally created a character, one that refuses to dance to Meyer's tune. Meta-Jessica recognizes Bella's passive-aggression for what it is and calls her on it. But Meyer is strong in the Dark Side of the Force, and Meta-Jessica is quickly hushed up by the power of faux-emo moping. After all, it's been two pages since Bella last moped about Edward's not being around, so we get this:

The girls'-night high was wearing off in the wake of my annoyance at Tyler, leaving room for the gloom to move back in.

Whew! I thought for a minute Bella might be able to go a few hours without spiraling into an Edward-inspired depression. Zis bullet has been, how you say...dodged!

Bella then exhibits her narcissism (or typical teen-aged selfishness, according to some comments) by interrogating the other girl on this girls' night out about whether or not the Cullens missed two days of school because of her, specifically. Not just Edward, apparently, but all of them.

"Um, Angela..." She looked up curiously.

"Is it normal for the...Cullens"--I kept my eyes on the shoes--"to be out of school a lot?" I failed miserably in my attempt to sound nonchalant.

"Yes, when the weather is good they go backpacking all the time--even the doctor. They're all real outdoorsy," she told me quietly, examining her shoes, too. She didn't ask me one question, let alone the hundreds that Jessica would have unleashed. I was beginning to really like Angela.

So, why do you like Jessica again? Oh that's right, you don't.

Meyer really needs to stop calling attention to how ridiculous it is that the Cullens have integrated themselves so thoroughly into their surrounding human society if they can't even be viewed in direct sunlight. I guess world-class surgeon Carlisle isn't on call during these "backpacking trips" to avoid the sun. How lucky for him; I'm sure many doctors in the world would love to know how he manages to avoid being on call whenever he wants. And the Cullens must miss a lot of school in the spring. Even in the Pacific Northwest, there are lots of sunny days in May. And the Cullens have somehow lived in Forks for four generations without anyone noticing that none of them ages. (Remember, Jake's great-grandfather made a pact with the Cullens, the same ones.) This just doesn't make sense on any level. But Meyer wants to have it both ways, so by authorial fiat, she gets it. The Cullens have lived in Forks for about a century, a tiny town that doesn't have nearly enough high schools for them to graduate from a different one every four years, without even changing their names, and no-one notices because Meyer doesn't resolve contradictions in different parts of her novel; she just fails to notice they exist because she doesn't bother to edit. Connor MacLeod survived in plain sight as an immortal for decades, but that was in New York City, where it's a lot easier to hide, and under different names. He didn't move to a town of 3000 and live as "Connor MacLeod" for 200 years without aging a day. Oh, and he could come out during the day.

Bella goes off alone to find a bookstore while her friends go do something else. Bella does this because, she says, she likes to go to bookstores alone. This isn't surprising, since she likes to do everything alone. The only reason she came on this trip at all was to distract herself from moping about Edward. (And of course it didn't work, because she likes moping about Edward.) If Edward had appeared in school that day, you can bet she wouldn't be on this little excursion right now.

In the Twilight film, Bella goes inside the bookstore she finds and purchases a book about folklore, as she's still doing research to determine if Edward is a vampire. In the novel, naturally, even this bit of proactivity is denied her, in part because she already knows Edward's a vampire by means of her privileged access to the author's mind, but mostly because Meyer can't bear to write her fauxtagonist actually doing things.

I wasn't paying as much attention as I should to where I was going; I was wrestling with despair. I was trying so hard not to think about him, and what Angela had said...and more than anything trying to beat down my hopes for Saturday [when Edward is supposed to take her to Seattle], fearing a disappointment more painful than the rest, when I looked up to see someone's silver Volvo parked along the street and it all came crashing down on me. Stupid, unreliable vampire, I thought to myself.

You know, that's the trouble with vampires. They're unreliable.

November 21, 2012

Versions of Blade Runner

I know that every reader of this blog, upon reading my incredibly insightful and brilliant review of Blade Runner, immediately wanted to run out and watch it, even if she's already seen it, because I'm just that good. "But Carl Eusebius" I hear you asking, "there are lots of versions of Blade Runner. Which one should I watch?"

Well, if you're truly committed to art, as I am, you'll watch all of them for the sake of comparison. But since I know none of you can aspire to my own greatness, I'll help you choose the best version, the one that is truly one of the greatest films of our time.

Because major film studios were once even more convinced we're all morons, Blade Runner exists in three versions. (Actually there are more, but most people only have easy access to three.) The first is the version released to theatres in 1982. It adds completely unnecessary narration* to tell us things we don't need to know--things the film establishes visually or through context or dialogue, things we don't care to know because they aren't important, and things the film leaves ambiguous--but apparently we gibbering baboons in the audience need to have everything spelled out for us. Needless to say, this version removes several indicators that Deckard is a replicant. Its worst sin of all is replacing the original ambiguous ending with a bullshit "happy" ending that's as tacked on as the flamboyantly gay character in every sitcom made in the '90s.

The original "Director's Cut" of Blade Runner, released in 1992, is the primary impetus for the current plague of "director's cuts" for films that appear to have been directed by computers and exist solely as an excuse to get fans to buy two versions on DVD. In Blade Runner this wasn't the case, since there were significant differences between the theatrical version and director Ridley Scott's original vision. Fan edits--composed of footage available from foreign and television versions and from the bootlegged "workprint" version--had attempted to restore Scott's original vision for a decade, and so it was finally decided to undertake an "official" restoration of Scott's Blade Runner. This version isn't a director's cut in the strictest sense, as Scott was busy with other projects and at the time didn't have time to supervise the cut directly. Instead, he sent notes to the people in charge of it explaining what he'd meant to do ten years ago. This version removes the godawful voice-over and restores both the original ending and the "unicorn" sequence that implies Deckard is a replicant. This version is the most ambiguous, partly because Scott, probably working from memory, missed a number of small changes, and partly because Scott's busyness prevented him from fucking up his own film.

The "Final Cut", released in 2007, was under Ridley Scott's control, is generally considered his true director's cut, and is such a horrible abomination of humankind that it had me praying for death by the time it was over. It clarifies a number of murky areas in earlier versions, primarily by correcting errors. For instance, in every previous cut, Deckard's boss says there were originally six replicants, with one being killed before they reached Earth. Yet only four replicants are dealt with in the film, creating a "missing replicant" that was the subject of fan discussion for 25 years. (The script originally called for five replicants in the movie, but budget constraints forced the producers to cut one.) Now he says two were killed, removing the missing replicant. Other continuity and special effects issues are cleared up, which is all well and good...but then Scott goes on to show that he's lost some trust in his audience over the years.

Old Ridley he doesn't think we can, like, figure stuff out with clues provided by the film, but must have everything clearly spelled out for us. For instance, villain Roy Batty and a human companion ride the elevator up to the top floor of a massive office building, where they meet with a man that Batty eventually murders. Going back down the elevator, Batty is alone. Now because my brain isn't made of Roquefort cheese, I sussed out the fate of Batty's companion, but Scott has to add a line to make sure we "get" that Batty killed the fellow.

The most egregious change is what was done to the sequence implying Deckard is a replicant. In the "Final Cut", the implication is much stronger, reflecting Old Ridley's utterly mistaken and ludicrous belief that Deckard is a replicant. While the film stops short of having a flashing sign over Deckard's head announcing that he isn't human (I expect Scott's associates talked him out of adding this sign), it just barely stops short of such a clumsy device.

So which cut is the one to watch? If you've been paying attention, you know the answer: The Director's Cut. That is, the 1992 cut-that-isn't-a-director's-cut-but-is-called-director's-cut, not the 2007 cut-that-is-a-director's-cut-but-is-called-final-cut. The reason for this is simple: The 1992 version is the cut that most resembles what Young Ridley wanted to do. This is the Ridley Scott of Alien, not the Ridley Scott of Prometheus. In 1992, only 10 years after the release of Blade Runner, Scott sent the editors a list of things that he remembered he wanted to do with the film but were denied him for one reason or another. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't even watch the film again but relied entirely on his memory of what rankled him about studio meddling. That's why we get a great film. That's where there's ambiguity, because Young Ridley could be ambiguous. Ridley Scott wasn't quite so Old in 1992. He still remembered Young Ridley, and he was really trying to restore Young Ridley's film as best he could. In 2007, he was truly Old Ridley. Not 10 years later, but 25 years. This was the man who gave us Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. He didn't know who Young Ridley was, and wouldn't have cared if he had. Instead, he painstakingly went through Young Ridley's film and fixed it. He removed the ambiguity. Deckard is now clearly a replicant. He even changes Rutger Hauer's amazing delivery of the line "I want more life, father!" Or is it "fucker"? In the Director's Cut, it's unclear, and every time I watch it I hear it differently. This reflects Batty's conflicting relationship with his father and, really, the confusing relationship every son has with his father.

But Old Ridley doesn't like ambiguity. Old Ridley has to spell it out for us. So Old Ridley substitutes a take in which Hauer clearly says "father", so that we cretins in the audience won't have our puzzlers start a-hurtin'.

Ridley Scott, your Final Cut of Blade Runner is bad and you should feel bad.


* There is a persistent legend that Harrison Ford, openly against the narration, intentionally tanked it during recording because he was so unhappy with it. Ford denies this, claiming he gave it his best and it sounds terrible in the movie because, well, it was terrible. I hate to gainsay Ford, and his explanation is a good one (because the narration truly is terrible), but man, his reading of it is horrendous.

November 19, 2012

Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II

When I started this blog, I imagined I might deal with the Twilight film once I was through eviscerating the novel. As it's developed, I've found myself referencing the film version regularly, calling into question the need to address it separately. Writing up the other films hadn't even entered my mind, as I was not (and am not) sure I'll have the strength to dig into their respective source novels. The first one is trying enough.

Yet this blog concerns itself with two things: Twilight and terrible movies. What could be more appropriate, then, than reviewing a Twilight movie? Plus I thought, considering my love-hate relationship with this series, I ought to see at least one of the films in cinema, surrounded by Twihards. So on the film's opening night, I went eagerly to see Twilight, Part 4: Part 2.

Yes, Breaking Dawn, the epic story that could not be contained in one movie, split in two and made shamelessly cheaply to maximize profits. Warning: This review is spoiler-heavy, including the one genuine surprise at the film's climax (along with its subsequent ruination). If you have any intention of seeing this film--and God help you if you do--I strongly recommend you read no further. Those who prefer moving slowly through the novel along with this blog will also want to avoid the rest of this review, as it's sure to give away plot points from throughout the series.

Having said that, let's get into Breaking Wind. Since this is the fifth and final in the series of films that make up THE TWILIGHT SAGA (you have to say it in all caps), let me bring you up to speed on what happened in the previous four films.

Edward and Bella got married and had sex, resulting in Bella's pregnancy.

You can see why they needed four movies to tell such an epic tale. And now we have the finale, and it is every bit the sputtering anticlimax you expect from a series of novels that gave away its inevitable conclusion in the first fifty pages but insisted on dragging the story out across three thousand.

Stephenie Meyer's manipulation of her series mythology--such as it is--to suit her plot comes out in full force in Breaking Bad. Vampires don't blink, or breathe, or eat, but they do continue to produce viable sperm and the semen to deliver it, and their hearts continue to pump blood. That's an odd mix of biological processes there. Why, it's almost as if the author hasn't thought through the whole vampire thing and just makes it work however her plot needs it to work.

The fetus develops so rapidly I thought maybe I'd missed Bella drinking the Water of Life, so the newly married couple decides to conceal her pregnancy from Mustache Dad. It sure is lucky they did, because Bella dies giving birth to the half-vampire child. Edward is devastated, but then he remembers that in the Meyerverse, vampire blood not only turns living people into vampires, but dead people, too! So even though she's already dead, Edward makes like the Re-Animator, and Bella's eyes open, vampire-red. End of Part 4, Part 1.

Part 4, Part 2 picks up directly from there. The power fantasy of Twilight's vampirism reaches completion in this installment, as we're treated to annoying zoom shots of Bella Swan's (Kristen Stewart) super-human senses: She can see the tiniest drop of water, hear the movement of air, see the dust motes between the carpet fibers, smell the slightest of farts. Instead of reacting in horror and despair that she is now condemned to the same damnation of attending high school over and over again until the end of time that Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) has endured for a century, she's ecstatic to be a walking corpse that feasts on the blood of the living. Now she can live her suburban white American upper-middle-class unlife until the end of time! Plus, she can run really, really fast by way of a terribly rendered CGI effect, smash slabs of granite with her bare hands without having to, you know, put in any effort to build muscles, and have sex literally constantly since vampires don't sleep or become fatigued.

And every vampire has a special vampire power, on top of all their other powers, so that Meyer can rely on mind-reading, clairvoyance, and seeing the future whenever she can't think of a plausible way to get the characters out of a situation. If you guessed that Bella's special power (which is that other vampires' special powers don't work on her, except when the filmmakers forget and have a power affect her) is the most special-est one of all, give yourself a cookie.

So Bella's the strongest vampire of all the Cullens, and has the best-est power, and is definitely--with the Twilight vampire make-up job and those red colored contact lenses--the hottest. There's the little trouble of bloodlust, though, since newly-turned vampires in the Meyerverse are very difficult to keep from eating people. Edward takes her out to hunt an animal instead, but she gets a whiff of some poor bastard who's just gashed himself open while rock-climbing, and she's off to eat him. Uh-oh, conflict! But this is Twilight, so conflict is either never brought up at all or brought up and then immediately resolved. This time it's option b: Edward runs after her and tells her she shouldn't eat this guy, so she doesn't, and the idea that she'll eat people is never mentioned in the film again; in fact, she's allowed to meet Mustache Dad (Billy Burke), alone, the next day. Man, Edward's one minute of training sure paid off! Bella is about to eat a deer, but not only are these vampires so neutered they don't eat people, they don't even eat cute cuddley-wuddley animals. So Bella instead eats a mountain lion that was just about to eat the deer. She vampire-jumps and hits the beast from the side, taking it down and tearing its neck open with her teeth. And yes, it looks just as ridiculous as it sounds.

Speaking of Mustache Dad, he is now the only actual human being left in Twilight, since Bella's high school friends are absent this film. Progressively through the series, these friends have become more and more apart from Bella until they disappear entirely after her wedding, since her marriage signified her becoming a full member of the Mormon church Cullen clan and so she has no connection to these people from her pre-Cullen life. I don't think Meyer was going for the Cullens as a symbolic dangerous cult, but that's what she gave us. Bella's okay with the Cullens' telling her father she's dead, since she has Edward and is a vampire now and that's all that's important. Spurned suitor Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), though, says she'll want to have her father in her life, so, in a genuinely funny scene--in part due to Burke's acting, which I've already praised elsewhere--Jacob reveals he is a werewolf to Mustache Dad. He does this by stripping off his clothes, making this the obligatory "Jacob takes off his shirt" scene, much to Mustache Dad's annoyance. Somehow this means it's okay for Bella to continue to see her father. Whew, that was...too close. Another conflict raised and immediately hand-waved away!

But why is Jacob there, you ask? Well, the werewolves have this thing called "imprinting". Long story short, it's "there's someone out there just for you" taken to its Meyerverse extreme. A werewolf sees a person of the opposite sex (despite all the shirtless male horseplay throughout the series, these dogs don't roll with teh gay!) and becomes that person's creepy stalker: He has to be with that person, and no other, and the obsession can't be changed or removed. Jacob doesn't imprint on Bella because that would've brought about a genuine conflict with no easy resolution, and we'll have none of that. No, he imprints--and I can't believe I'm going to write this--he imprints...on...the baby.

The baby.

This man witnesses a birth, and upon seeing the bloody, squalling infant, he falls in love with it.

Which means that, throughout the film, he's constantly hovering around the little girl, looking at her with naked longing in his eyes. (It's very, very odd that Taylor Lautner's best acting in the entire series is giving creepy sex looks to a 7-year-old girl.) It was disturbing every time I saw it, astonished that the director filmed those scenes and included them in the final print. I mean, it just has to be seen to be believed. Wait no, because I saw it and I still don't believe it.

The plot, what little there is, is exactly the same as that of Part 3. In that film, Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her horde of vampires were coming to destroy the Cullen family, who had to turn to the underwearwolves for help. In this film, Aro (Michael Sheen) and his horde of vampires are coming to destroy the Cullen family, who have to turn to their other vampire friends for help. Most of these vampires are just names and faces that leave no impression, and they don't have much impact on the story. I laughed when one of them proved to be the Last Airbender, and it was nice to see some of the "good" vampires being vampires (i.e., eating people) when the Cullens go to ask for their help.

Now I've beaten up on Twilight a lot. Certainly it sucks, and it deserves all the scorn that has been and continues to be heaped upon it. But I do want to give credit where I can, and two of these new vampires are fabulous. These are Hanz and Franz--I don't know what their real names are, but to me they're Hanz and Franz--Romanian vampires who used to be in charge of the vampire world until the Italian Volturi overthrew them. These guys, with their best Bela Lugosi accents and the way they finish each other's thoughts, are only matched in the shameless overacting department by Michael Sheen--yes, that Michael Sheen--as Aro, the leader of the Volturi. These three men slice the ham thick, and I love them for it. Hanz and Franz are pushing the Cullens and their friends to fight the Volturi, but nobody but Edward is having it, since the Volturi are so powerful no-one can stand against them. Edward gives a "we few, we happy few" speech (consisting of maybe three lines) that won't have Shakespeare looking over his shoulder, and they're all ready to fight. (Personally, the hell with Edward, but I'd fight for Hanz and Franz.)

Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), the head of the Cullen family, exposits that the Volturi are coming to destroy the Cullens so they can force Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene), the vampire who sees the future, to become part of their clan. To disguise this naked power grab, however, the Volturi need an excuse, and they decide to use as their pretext a report that Edward and Bella's daughter, who has the hilariously stupid name "Reneesme", is an "immortal child". That is, a child turned into a vampire, for such are forbidden by the Volturi as too dangerous to be allowed to exist, since they have all the powers of a vampire but the minds of children. Carlisle decides to gather up as many of his vampire friends as he can to "witness" to the Volturi that Alia Reneesme isn't an immortal child. No one points out that this is a fantastically moronic plan, because Carlisle just said the immortal child thing is a pretext. But they carry out the plan anyway, because it's Twilight and Meyer had to fill up four novels despite telling a story that doesn't have a shred of tension or drama.

So we're set for the final confrontation, the climax of Twilight, the showdown between the Good Cullens and the Evil People-Eating Vampires (never mind that the Cullens' allies also eat people) to close out the THE TWILIGHT SAGA. But it's Twilight, so people have to yack first. Carlisle offers Aro his witnesses. Aro's special vampire power is to look into the minds of those he touches, so he says forget the witnesses and asks to touch the child. Of course he discovers the kid isn't an immortal child. Well, she is immortal, and a child, but what she's not is an immortal child. He then declares she is to be destroyed anyway, since they don't know exactly what she is and that makes her dangerous. The Cullens react as if this is some big betrayal, but Carlisle earlier said the whole thing was just a pretext to get to Alice. What did you expect Aro to do? Say "Oops, our mistake!" and turn around and go home? What's surprising is that he's even talking about this, and that he doesn't lie after working the mind-mojo on the kid. But we have to pad, pad, pad, so now Alice shows up and says that she's seen the future and the child isn't dangerous, allowing Aro to touch her and see her visions for himself as proof. He does and sees she's right, but now he does lie about it and declares the child is to be destroyed because the whole thing is a pretext. God, this is so dumb.

The big fight begins, and something impressive happens. No, really. The fight begins with Carlisle charging Aro, and Aro kills him. That's right, in this series in which nothing bad has happened to any of the Cullens, in which no one is ever really in danger, in which none of the good guys has even been hurt except the time Bella was bitten by James in the first movie, the Cullen patriarch gets kacked. This doesn't happen in the Breaking Down novel, and let me tell you, there were gasps in the audience. This film series has so far proceeded more or less in lockstep with the books--changing minor details but forbidden from tinkering with anything important--but Part 4, Part 2 threw the Twihards a curveball, and they didn't know what to do. I myself couldn't believe it was happening (for good reason, as it turned out). Meyer produced this film, so she had to approve Carlisle's death. Not only that, they kill Harpo and some of the werewolves in the ensuing bloodbath, before finally Aro himself falls and the Volturi retreat. Finally, some actual stakes. Finally, genuine consequences. Finally, triumph at least tinged with sadness and loss. Finally, everything doesn't turn out all right in the end, not totally. Even though the good guys won, there was a cost. A price to be paid.

The entire fight was just Alice's vision, showing Aro what would happen if he fights the battle. Since the result is his own death, Aro takes his army and goes home.

Fuck. This. Movie.

The old "it was all a dream" is the cheapest and laziest way to manufacture drama in the hack writer's handbook. No artistic work has ever been improved by it. All it does is piss off the audience because it means everything we just saw wasn't real and so nothing was ever really at stake. That's what infuriates me the most about Twilight. It's lazy. It doesn't even try to be any good. It doesn't put any effort into being believable or memorable or effective in any way. All it does is pander to the fantasies of a particular demographic to rake in the cash. It's the gender-reverse of the Michael Bay Transformers series. And people buy into it. As long as your product works my fetish, I'll pay you for it, no matter how cheap and lazy and sloppy it is. People, I don't hate romantic films. I don't hate action films. I don't hate superhero films. I hate lazy films. And I hate people who don't hate lazy films. Have some goddamned standards, ya heathens! Make 'em earn it!

Some critics are praising the film for its climax, even as they also criticize it for chickening out in the end. But by making it all just a vision, the filmmakers destroy all the interest they've crassly manufactured. In the end, it's the same old Twilight: toothless, neutered, non-threatening, status quo-affirming, consequence-free.

Still, the Twihards' reactions were damn fun. I mean, they even killed Harpo!

November 14, 2012

Behind Enemy Lines 2: Axis of Evil

The original Behind Enemy Lines is a pimple on the world's collective ass. It stars Owen Wilson as the Great American White Boy and Gene Hackman as a guy standing in a room speaking passionately into a radio transmitter. Inspired by the story of an Imperial pilot shot down over Bosnia during the NATO intervention, the film couldn't be bothered to know anything about the conflict in which it was set. It existed only to impart one single truth: Foreigners are evil.

The Bosnian Serbs? Evil. The Croats? Evil, too. NATO? Craven. And also evil. Only Hackman's 100% red-blooded American Admiral Reigart wants to get Wilson's whiteness back to the Empire where it belongs. Everyone else is trying to kill Wilson or allowing other people to kill Wilson, including the NATO commander, Admiral Piquet. Being French, he's unable to man up and Go Get Our Boy, as Reigart passionately demands. And wouldn't you know it, when Piquet finally authorises a rescue mission, he staffs it with French troops, who of course flee when they come under fire and leave Wilson's whiteness stranded in a foreign land full of swarthy foreign people who are foreign. It's left to Reigart himself, in defiance of orders, to round up some good old Imperial stormtroopers and personally(!) lead the rescue to save the only lives worth saving: American lives.

The real Imperial pilot whose experience was the source for this dreck survived for six days using his SERE training. For those of you don't know what that means--which is to say, everyone reading this blog--SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. It's what to do if you're ever, say, shot down and stranded in enemy territory: how to contact friendlies without giving away your position, how to find food and water, how to not parade around on hilltops so you'll be instantly spotted and captured. Now, I watched this film with an actual SERE instructor, and I delighted in his constant rage and yelling at the screen every time the Wilson character did something guaranteed to get him killed. Of course, you don't need military survival training to know that if you're wearing a mask to blend in with other masked enemy soldiers until you can duck out of sight and escape, you don't take off the mask and turn back to look at the enemy soldiers to see if they saw you move 30 feet away from them. It's no wonder the real pilot sued the studio that produced this film for making him look this dumb. (He lost.)

So Behind Enemy Lines sucked, and no-one liked it, but it broke even at the box office, which in today's Hollywood is enough to warrant a sequel, albeit a completely unrelated direct-to-DVD no-budget in-name-only sequel released five years later.

Behind Enemy Lines 2: Now Owen Wilson-Free! is the story of how stupid and incompetent the Imperial military is. I wouldn't complain about this if the movie dealt with something in which the military actually isn't competent, such as governing areas of which it has no cultural knowledge that are pocketed by guerrilla fighters and child suicide-bombers. But this film portrays our brave sturmtruppen as incompetent at doing what they do best: killing people with lots of skin pigmentation and blowing things up. Hogwash, I say! I submit to you there is no organisation more skilled at killing brown people and blowing things up than our own Imperial military. Now that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Milosevic are gone, we're number one, baby!

The member of the titular Axis of Evil in this case is North Korea. Those crazy Commies have themselves a nuclear weapon that can reach the Empire itself, and it even appears to function! Now if there's one thing we in the Empire don't countenance, it's other countries' being able to retaliate against our homeland if we decide to blow them up real good, so the Emperor orders a team of Navy SEALs (led by Lt. James (Nicholas Gonzalez)) to go in there and destroy the missile silo with the nuclear stuff in it, without even bothering to inform South Korea, the only target the North can reasonably strike back against. What, consult with our allies? Please. The ROKs might get an explanation after the whole thing is over, if we feel like it! The Navy and Air Force argue the merits of their respective proposals--a precision air strike vs. a commando operation--and the Emperor decides on the SEAL option, declaring 'I'm done talking about this!' and ordering the Navy honcho to send in the troops.

Stock footage of Seoul attempts to convince us we're in South Korea before we cut to our SEAL team in a bar somewhere in Bulgaria. Oh, wait, there's some Korean writing on one wall and some Asian people wandered into shot, so I guess the team is in Seoul. A dozen or so names and ranks of the SEALs are flashed on the screen for us, even though most of them aren't even in the bulk of the movie. I didn't care to remember any of them, and I guarantee you won't, either. The film establishes that one of the team members has just had a daughter born back home and refers to himself as immortal, so I immediately pegged him for the grave. To the filmmakers' credit, they appear to have set it up this way on purpose, as this guy pointedly makes it to the end of the movie. They more than make up for it, though, in their slavish obedience to the other post-Saving Private Ryan war movie cliches throughout the picture.

The Imperial decree comes down, and the SEAL team boards a fake "civilian" flight to disguise their parachute drop into North Korea, never-mind that commercial flights from the South don't fly anywhere near Northern airspace lest they be shot down faster than Jesse Jackson at a KKK rally. The Emperor isn't very decisive, though, as he decides to cancel the SEAL team's mission in the middle of their drop. That cocks up the whole enterprise, as three guys have already jumped when the order comes down. Immortal Guy disobeys orders and jumps as well, so now four SEALs are on the ground while the rest just stay on the plane and fly off. Man, if only the military had some kind of, I don't know, 'point of no return' beyond which the mission can't be recalled so that sort of thing doesn't happen....

The four men are told to lay low and await rescue. These highly-trained elite special ops SEALs respond by immediately giving away their position to a Korean child of indeterminate gender. The Navy must be pretty lax in its physical training for SEALs these days, since these guys chase a kid who can't be more than twelve years old over hill and dale yet don't manage to catch him/her before she/he reaches her/his village. Instead of running the other way to at least put some distance between themselves and their original hiding place (presumably where the North Koreans would start searching once they got word from the village), they decide to bust into the kid's house and scream at her/his mother in English. (I'd say it's tough luck that one of the four isn't the Korean interpreter they brought along for this mission, except it's eminently clear they didn't bring an interpreter!) This proves to be an even dumber move than I thought, since a unit of North Korean soldiers just happens to be in this podunk village at this particular time and quick comes a-runnin' to see what all the ruckus is about. In the ensuing Saving Private Ryan-wannabe firefight (desaturated colours, slow-mo, shaky-cam, bloody bullet wounds, the whole business), the filmmakers almost do something right when one of the three soldiers who isn't black is fatally shot. The cliche monster will not be denied, though, so this fellow clings to life until the black guy is kacked. The Movie Gods thus satisfied that The Black Character Has Died First, the white guy is now free to expire. The movie goes into slow motion and plays overbearing sad music so that we'll care about this character we don't know and can't distinguish from any of his buddies. (We don't.)

Immortal Guy and Lt. James are captured and brought before one Cmdr. Hwang (Joseph Stephen Yang). I'm probably one of the only people who saw this movie and got endless amusement out of the range of Korean accents displayed onscreen. Actually, I'm probably one of the only people who saw this movie, period. Yang is an actual Korean, but he doesn't even bother to try to effect a North Korean accent as he interrogates James, who has flashbacks to Master Chief Boytano (Keith David) to keep himself from breaking under torture. This works, of course, because like Jesus Christ, the invocation of Keith David repels evil. Col. Koh Lip (Dennis J. Lee) arrives and takes over the interrogation even though his haircut is way out of regs. He chews out Hwang for his brutality and talks nicely to James in English because he's Korean-American and his Korean is on par with Borat's English. He even flubs his Korean lines a couple of times, but it's not like the director noticed or would've cared if he had!

Now that the SEALs have been captured, the South Korean ambassador storms into the Imperial Palace and reams the Emperor for violating North Korea's sovereignty without consulting or even informing the South. This guy must have balls the size of Alpha Centauri since he repeatedly cuts off the Emperor of the Known World. Man, the Emperor can't get no respect, as earlier the CIA director was also cutting him off. This film really has no conception of the aura of majesty that surrounds the Emperor. It may not mean anything to newspaper cartoonists or redneck southerners, but military officers, diplomats, and government officials don't treat the Imperial Personage like the slow kid from 3rd period English. Oh, and no South Korean ambassador would refer to the East Sea as the "Sea of Japan". And North Koreans wouldn't paint "North Korea" (in Korean) on the sides of their jeeps. That's the South Korean name for the North, the use of which to any Northerner will get you anything from an icy stare to a death sentence, depending on Kim Jong-un's mood that day. I'm just sayin'.

Shockingly, the Empire continues to not negotiate with the North, not even to get the two surviving SEALs back. No, since the SEALs have failed, the Emperor orders the Air Force to proceed with the air strike, which is somehow supposed to lead to war even though the North seems pretty okay with the whole commando strike team attacking its sovereign territory thing, so I don't know why this air strike is so much worse. In a genuine surprise, the South Korean ambassador pushes the Emperor to follow up the air strike with a full-scale invasion of the North to re-unify the peninsula. That the South would advocate preemptive evasion was ridiculous when this movie was made, but I didn't see it until 2009, with Lee Myung-bak in power, and suddenly it doesn't seem quite so ridiculous. So I guess the filmmakers got me there, though really I think the South Koreans only push for war so the Emperor can get all self-righteous and preach peace even as he's calling down air strikes and launching commando raids. the current Emperor, so I guess they got me again....

Where the Empire fails, though, South Korea succeeds, as South Korean special forces (wearing masks so the same two stuntmen can play a dozen of them dying) rescue the two SEALs moments before Immortal Guy was to be executed on Col. Koh's orders. . I was ready to be impressed with the movie for actually allowing non-Americans to do something right, and to rescue Americans at that, but as the scene plays out, most of these elite Korean troopers die in the 'rescue' since they have no plan beyond 'leap out of the forest and start shooting wildly', and Lt. James ends up having to save everybody. James draws a bead on Koh but doesn't fire, because earlier Koh declared they were ch'inggu (friends) and James somehow has it in his head that Koh is sympathetic to his mission. Boy, won't James's face be red when South Korean special forces commander Col. Chung (Hyun-Joo Shin) tells him that the rescue began when Koh started shouting for Immortal Guy to be killed!

The Emperor, having heard that Lt. James is alive, has the exact same conversation with the Air Force and Navy brass about the merits of the air strike vs. the commando team, including some of the same lines verbatim from the earlier scene. I guess that 'I'm done talking about this!' line was so good the director couldn't help but give it to us again. The scene is so similar, in fact, that I think it's actually a different take of that very scene. Did they run out of money to shoot new footage? Or did they just think we wouldn't notice the characters having the exact same conversation they just had half an hour ago? Beggering belief, the Emperor orders James to carry out the strike on the silo.

Now wait just a damn minute. Earlier the Emperor called off the mission when it would've been an entire SEAL team, and when he heard that four SEALs made it onto the ground, he ordered them to hide and await rescue. But now that his entire effective force on the ground consists of one guy, he orders him to carry out the mission? Look, we're not talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger, here. Unless you're a cigar-smoking wisecracking Austrian beefcake, you can't single-handedly defeat an entire country!

Never-the-less, that's just what happens. James and the few surviving South Korean special forces attempt to destroy the missile silo. The South Koreans are just there to get killed (except for the one English-speaking Korean they hired to play Col. Chung) while James rips off Predator's 'hero sabotages key heavy machinery in plain sight which causes an explosion that starts the battle' scene. James and Chung are captured again, when Col. Koh appears out of nowhere and orders them released so they can continue their mission. So he is helping the good guys after all? Well why the hell did he order his men to kill Immortal Guy? Why didn't he let South Korea know he'd be willing to turn James over to them so he didn't almost get himself killed in the earlier rescue? It's a good thing for him James took that ch'inggu stuff seriously instead of splitting his head like the 38th parallel. (Get it?)

I don't have the space or the patience to get into how badly this film gets the military wrong (please don't use the term 'chain of command' if you don't know what it means), or the shots of palm trees allegedly establishing South Korea, or the one SEAL who declares that 'Korea believes in the shaman' and so he's relieved that he won't have to die in a godless land. When this fellow dies, he gets a Korean shaman vision, complete with spectral tiger! White pandering: It's not just for American Indian spirituality anymore.

Col. Chung doesn't seem concerned that his entire unit, between the 'rescue' and the destruction of the missile silo, has been wiped out. Well, the only lives that matter are American, so as long as the two SEALs survive and make it home, it's a happy ending. James returns to the Empire to meet up with Master Chief Boytano, allowing Keith David to show us a little of the fine acting that falls from him like manna from Heaven. The film's last line of dialogue is, fittingly, completely wrong in that it has an officer calling an enlisted man 'sir'.

I'll leave you with the words an enlisted man once said to me when I did that very same thing: 'Don't call me sir, son. I work for a living.'

November 12, 2012

Twilight: Warm-up Moping

Twilight, pp. 147-151.

Before I start this week's analysis, I just wanted to point out that Twilight never gives us any clear idea of exactly when it's supposed to be taking place. The year we've already established is circa 1992 2005. But what time of year is it? We know school's in, but is it fall? Heading into winter? Heading out of winter? Springtime? No idea. It's probably not spring since nobody went swimming when Mike and the gang went to La Push beach, but that's all I've got for you. Meyer knows what her readers need, though, so a quarter of the way through the book, we find out (well, sorta) what season we're in! As near as I can figure, it's around the end of winter and the beginning of spring, meaning Bella probably arrived in Forks in February and it's now mid-March.

Note to aspiring writers: Don't force your reader to piece together when your story takes place by assembling a dozen teeny bits of information scattered throughout the story. Oh, and don't make your main characters sociopathic narcissists and superpowered control-freaks. And before you fankids start throwing out the names of authors X, Y, and Z who write good stories involving such things, pay attention to what I said: aspiring writers. Make sure you've managed the basics before you try to move on to the hard stuff.

Anywho, Bella whips out her battered Jane Austen compilation and sits down to do some serious English literature-major pleasure reading!

My favourites were Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I'd read the first most recently, so I started into Sense and Sensibility, only to remember after I began chapter three that the hero of the story happened to be named Edward. Angrily, I turned to Mansfield Park, but the hero of that story was named Edmund, and that was just too close....I snapped the book shut, annoyed, and rolled over on my back.

We're supposed to believe Bella is so super-special that a vampire who has eaten human beings in the course of more than a century on this Earth is smitten with her, yet her two favourite Jane Austen novels are the two that everybody knows. And remember, it's been exactly three days since Bella last saw Edward, yet she can't read a novel containing a character whose name even resembles his. Mark Kermode thinks this girl is an independent young woman. Mark Kermode is also a gigantic twat.

Yes, Edward's absence (which so far consists of one day of school) means our Bella is, in her own words, depressed, no doubt as Edward intended since he's a manipulative, emotionally abusive arsehole. With Edward away, Bella is forced to talk to her father for the first time since Chapter Three. Mustache Dad earns my gratitude by finally, seven chapters in, giving Jessica a last name. Bella deigns to get his permission to go dress-shopping with Jessica in Port Angeles the next night, even though she's not getting a dress herself. Mustache Dad, despite being in his forties, is confused by the strange, unfamiliar notion that a female would accompany another female shopping. Between this and the creepy pictures-of-the-ex-wife-all-over-the-house thing, Mustache Dad really needs to get out more.

Cut to the next day:

It was sunny again in the morning. I awakened with renewed hope that I grimly tried to suppress. I dressed for the warmer weather in a deep blue V-neck blouse--something I'd worn in the dead of winter in Phoenix.

I had planned my arrival at school so that I barely had time to make it to class. With a sinking heart, I circled the full lot looking for a space, while also searching for the silver Volvo that was clearly not there. I parked in the last row and hurried to English, arriving breathless, but subdued, before the final bell.

It was the same as yesterday--I just couldn't keep little sprouts of hope from budding in my mind, only to have them squashed painfully as I searched the lunchroom in vain and sat at my empty Biology table.
I was anxious to get out of town so I could stop glancing over my shoulder, hoping to see him appearing out of the blue like he always did.

No doubt because if he did, you'd drop your 'friends' like so many used tampons and get into another boring, pointless conversation in which he's alternately hostile and patronising and you vacillate between impotent anger and blank indifference.

Is this what you normal people do? Purposefully arrive somewhere late so you have a plausible cover story as you drive around the car park looking for somebody's car? Are you constantly on edge, glancing around furtively in the hope of seeing someone you've had two or three conversations with after an absence of a few days? Were you ever like this?

I just want to know how typical this sort of behaviour is, because I find it frankly appalling.

And with that, Chapter Seven comes to...well, a close would be giving it a little too much credit. A stop. Right, that's better: With that, Chapter Seven comes to a full and complete stop, allowing me to release the safety arm, exit, and collect my belongings. So, my little droogies, you'll have to wait until next week to find out what happens during Bella's thrilling dress-shopping trip to a town slightly larger than Forks. Sadly, I'm serious. One hundred and fifty pages into this novel, and something finally, finally is going to happen on this trip. It doesn't have any connection to the main plot (which, if you can believe it, won't start for another two hundred and fifty pages) and doesn't in any way build toward any sort of climax, but it is a thing that does, in fact, happen.

But not today. It's going to take a bit longer. And you know, I can't think of a more fitting way to impart to you, my droogs, what a chore it is to read Twilight.

November 7, 2012

EJO Review: Miami Vice Episode 2.8 "Bushido"

I've maintained an utter loathing of the television program Miami Vice, sight unseen, since its inception. The music, the clothes, the Don just screamed crap, and I've spent decades pretending it doesn't exist. Then I saw that godawful Miami Vice film. I should've known better, but it teamed director Michael Mann and actor Jaime Foxx, and we know how great their last collaboration was. (Collateral, for those heathens who don't immediately know what I'm talking about. Yes, Virginia, there are films even Tom Cruise can't ruin.) Being one of the few human beings who doesn't loathe Colin Farrell with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, I dutifully handed over a few bucks to watch Miami Vice. I mean, Gong Li, amirite? It's got Ciaran Hinds; how bad could it be? Pretty goddamned bad, it turned out, and that only reinforced my conviction that Miami Vice the television show should remain as it had been: forgotten, ignored, and shitty.

But I'm doing a series on Edward James Olmos's body of work, so I can't really ignore arguably his best-known role: Lt. Martin Castillo on *sigh* Miami Vice. Yes, Olmos is probably better known for his second banana role on a mediocre '80s cop drama than for Blade Runner, probably the greatest artistic work to come out of that entire godforsaken decade. So I did some Stephenie Meyer-level research (I read parts of Miami Vice's Wikipedia page) and found an episode focussing on Castillo and guest starring Dean Stockwell(!). Nothing's ever been made worse by having Dean Stockwell in it, so I plopped down to watch two of my favourite actors go head to head. Maybe Miami Vice wouldn't suck so bad after all.

And you know what? It didn't, though I'm not convinced that isn't because I cherry-picked an episode all but guaranteed to not be terrible. It wasn't great--being Carl Eusebius, I found plenty to bitch about--but still, it wasn't awful. This was also probably helped by Olmos's direction of this episode since as I noted in my review of American Me, Olmos is a competent, confident director, if an unexceptional one. Even better, the main characters, Detectives Crockett and Tubbs (one's black, one's white--they're the original odd couple!), are hardly even in the episode at all. If crappy cop shows have one thing in common--from the '80s to the '00s--it's that when you have a talented guest star, you shove your shitty lead players aside and let the guest star strut her stuff.

Except that doesn't really happen, either. Instead, the episode focusses almost entirely on Castillo and gives Stockwell exactly one scene in the entire 50 minutes of this episode.* That's right, one. He's the top-billed guest star (coming as he was off his turn in the hugely and unjustly popular Blue Velvet), and he's on screen for four minutes, tops. That's the top-billed guest star. He has one scene with Olmos, and then he's out of the episode entirely. Could they not afford his salary, or what? I just can't believe you would get an actor of Stockwell's calibre and then do with him not a damn thing. I have issues with the last season of Battlestar Galactica--the primary issue being that it sucked--but I never begrudged the excessive Dean Stockwell screentime. Showrunner Ron Moore said Stockwell was so good in his role that the writers kept wanting to write for the character, which is why he basically takes over the last season, and I can't say I blame them there.

Yet Miami Vice films him for one scene and goes, "Eh, just have Eddie Olmos recite some bullshit story about samurai honour to a half-Russian kid, call it 'Bushido', play some faux-Japanese music, and that's a wrap."

The episode begins with a surprisingly decent cold open, despite the show's essential '80s-ness and the writers' determination to ruin whatever atmosphere they've accidentally created. Olmos has the camera follow a hooker in a hideous ensemble on quad roller skates (the '80s!) to a beach toilet. Then we cut to Crockett (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). Crockett is scanning the beach with a pair of night-vision binoculars while the camera lingers on Don Johnson's sweaty face and body, presumably a little something for the ladies whose husbands/boyfriends forced them to watch this crap. The highly '80s music is so loud that it occasionally drowns out the dialogue, a problem that continues throughout the episode. Crockett declares it's "snowing on the beach", cluing us hepcats in that the cocaine smuggler they're staking out has arrived. Smuggler and an obvious cop go into the toilet together in a way that totally doesn't make them look like two guys nipping off for quickie gay sex. At this point, a bunch of undercover vice cops reveal themselves--one of whom is, to absolutely no-one's surprise, the "hooker" from the opening shot--to neutralise Smuggler's supporting goons, including one cop completely buried under the sand(!!). Fortunately for Buried Guy, the goon he arrests doesn't resist, since Buried Guy's pistol would be as likely to blow up in his hand as fire, what with the barrel being full of sand and all. Each cop--including Buried Guy!--just happens to be about two feet from a goon when the order comes to neutralise them. Good thing the goons didn't mind someone conspicuously hovering around them until Crockett finally gave the signal to bust 'em all! But when Crockett and Tubbs rush into the toilet to make the main bust, their man on the inside has been rendered helpless, Smuggler is dead, and the money is gone.

Cue the signature Miami Vice theme, which I can't deny is catchy, despite being more '80s than Jennifer Beals in a gigantic perm doing aerobics while wearing legwarmers and crooning a Bangles tune. It's a pretty effective cold open, and I was intrigued about what happened. But I've been fooled before (I'm looking at you, every episode of CSI ever), so I remained cautious. Olmos's Castillo has a verbal sparring match with the cop who was rendered helpless (who turns out to be DEA) in which he implyies that the DEA agent had to have been in on the theft of the money. Immediately, though, the episode reveals that he wasn't in on it, and so all of this means nothing. It turns out that Stockwell's character Jack Gretsky stole the money, and he's just so good that he was able to kill the Smuggler, tie up and render helpless a trained DEA agent, and disappear with the drug money without anyone noticing him.

Castillo says that none of the vice cops (by which he means Crockett and Tubbs) are to approach Gretsky because he's so dangerous. Now, I love Dean Stockwell as much as any man can without turning into a ghey, yet when he appears on screen, he hardly looks like a monstrous killing machine. Stockwell is such an effective actor (and, to give credit where it's due, the writers wrote some decent dialogue for him) that he actually manages to carry off being a badass, explaining that he was able to detect every cop on the beach despite their being undercover, which is how he was able to avoid them. Still, I can't help but wonder how awesome the episode would've been if the roles were reversed. It's impossible, since Olmos was a series regular, but he's much more credible as a badass you'd better not approach, and Stockwell is more believable as the nebbishy lawman determined to bring him in despite the risks.

Gretsky, we learn, is an example of that well-worn hack writer trope, the CIA agent gone rogue. Castillo just happens to know that a local store is actually a CIA front, so he goes there and confronts two sp00ks about The Great One's being in Miami. The episode never explains why Castillo knows this. Is the CIA in the habit of informing local city cops about their front companies? The sp00ks threaten to have his badge (y'know, because the CIA can do that) and generally just behave like jerks, but they do reveal that Gretsky betrayed Edmonton both them and the KGB, so Castillo had better help the CIA get to him before the dirty Commies do. Castillo surprises me by asking the sensible question, "Why would he be any better off with you?", and the sp00ks surprise me even more by giving a decent answer: "He knows a lot of things we want to know. He can take years telling us stories."

Eventually we get the scene in which Castillo and Gretsky confront each other in a Japanese-style Buddhist temple with the faux-Japanese music occasionally making it impossible to hear the actors. Castillo and Gretsky exposit that they, again to the surprise of no-one (at least, no-one familiar with '80s cop cliches), served together in the Vietnam War, in which they apparently once fended off the North Vietnamese Army with swords. Vietnam turns out to be one of those Japanese countries, as Castillo lives in an imitation Tokugawa-era Japanese-style house and has his katana left over from the war. Gretsky reveals that he's dying, that he stole the money to help his wife and son escape from the CIA-KGB after his death, and, worst of all, that he's being traded to the Kings. He pulls a gun on Castillo and fires, plainly trying not to hit him, while Castillo defends himself. Exit Stockwell. The rest of the episode has Castillo finding the wife and kid, taking them somewhere the Russians can't find them, the Russians immediately finding them, and Castillo wiping out the Russian sp00ks with his katana. There are some hilariously inept sequences, including a truck's lightly tapping a police car causing both vehicles to massively explode (I guess the truck was filled with Atomic Gasoline), wifey being unable to find the pistol she dropped in 'the dark' despite the pistol's clearly lying in a ray of light on the floor directly in front of her, and people being shot without showing any sign of injury other than a small circle of red on their white collared shirts. The episode occasionally cuts to Crockett and Tubbs on Castillo's trail, and they show up at the end to save him, but they have even less dialogue and screentime than Stockwell.

And that's all to the good. Despite the clunky writing, the incredibly annoying and overbearing music, and the hokey Japanese references, it was a decent hour of '80s television, certainly more serious and realistic than any given episode of Knight Rider. (Okay, bad example.) Olmos's solid acting anchors the absurd premise; because he takes it seriously, so does the audience. The set-up is effective, even if the payoff isn't, and anything that puts money into Dean Stockwell's pocket can't really go wrong by me.

I can even sorta tolerate Blue Velvet, for Christ's sake.


* Watching this episode, I was struck by how short an "hour-long" television show is these days. In 1966, the original Star Trek was 51 minutes. Twenty years later, Miami Vice was 50 minutes. Twenty years after that, Battlestar Galactica was 42 minutes. It's like a premodern tax system: Over time, the ever-shrinking base of people who still watch TV shows on, well, TV has to bear more and more of the burden of paying for them (in the form of an ever-increasing number of commercials). How long before the lengths of the content and the advertisements reach parity?

November 4, 2012

Twilight: Non-Appearance

Twilight, pp. 139-146.

Upon effectively acknowledging (if not openly admitting) that Edward eats people, Bella does what she does best: nothing. As we saw last week, she immediately ruled out communicating the knowledge that Edward is a vampire to others because they might think she's, like, crazy, and a girl's got to watch out for her image! Another option was to "go back to ignoring him...tell him to leave me alone--and mean it this time." But that would also require Bella to do something, so this option is out, too. The only choice for our Bella is to take no action at all. Passive female docility, thy name is Bella Swan!

I did get a laugh out of this passage:

I didn't know if there was ever a choice, really. I was already in too deep. Now that I knew--if I knew--I could do nothing about my frightening secret. Because when I thought of him, of his voice, his hypnotic eyes, the magnetic force of his personality, I wanted nothing more than to be with him right now.

Ah, those three or four conversations between Edward and Bella so far mean Bella is "in too deep". And I love the bit about the "magnetic force" of Edward's personality. Bella must have a deep and powerful attraction to "guys who are kind of a jerk", since that's the only "personality" Edward has displayed so far. That would explain a lot, actually.

Bella returns to her house, relieved that she's finally made a decision. That her decision essentially amounts to refusing to make a decision doesn't, of course, bother her in the least.

I should be afraid--I knew I should be, but I couldn't feel the right kind of fear.

The reason Bella isn't afraid is that she knows what Meyer knows, and Meyer knows Edward is a Good Vampire (*blech*). If Bella truly believed Edward was a vampire and had the experiences we readers have seen her have, she absolutely would be afraid. When she was struggling to "decide" what to do, she noted that Edward saved her life as a point in his favour. But he can't eat her if she dies in a car accident, so that really shouldn't be very reassuring. (I don't dare suggest that though he might have saved her life, he may very well be eating other people, because we all know that Bella's life is the only life that matters to her.)

It amazes me how this novel goes out of its way to avoid having any teeth. (Get it? Teeth? Vampires? Oh, write your own jokes.) The story is set up as an example of the venerable "nice girl reforms the bad boy" trope, except the bad boy isn't even bad. So of course Bella isn't afraid. There's nothing to be afraid of! Edward keeps going on and on about how dangerous he is, but since he's basically a poseur, it only gets more laughable every time he does it. I'm not buying it, and Bella's not buying it. This is how low vampires have fallen. They can't even scare high school girls anymore.

The next day, after noting that her mother married at 19 (oh those Mormons and their high school marriage!), Bella goes to school. Because there's no-one else at this school, she immediately runs into Mike.

He was so delighted to see me, I couldn't help but feel gratified.[sic]

"I never noticed before--your hair has red in it," he commented, catching between his fingers a strand that was fluttering in the breeze.

"Only in the sun."

I became just a little uncomfortable as he tucked the lock behind my ear.

Mixed message much?

I didn't edit anything out. Bella goes from feeling gratified at Mike's obvious interest in her to feeling "uncomfortable" when he expresses it. That's our Bella: Want me, and make it clear you want me, but don't, like, do anything. (And it only gets worse with Jacob in the later books, my little droogies.)

"I was going to ask if you wanted to go out."

"Oh." I was taken off guard [sic]. Why couldn't I ever have a pleasant conversation with Mike anymore without it getting awkward?

Because you're leading him on. Next question!

And really, taken [sic]* off-guard? You're shocked that the guy who has expressed obvious interest in you for almost two months is asking you out? Good lord, Rosebud must have knocked you on your ass.

Bella has to spell out to Mike that Jessica likes him, because Meyer can't get her characterisation right and Mike somehow hasn't figured this out. He proves to be a quick study, though, since Jessica is "bubbling with enthusiasm" in the very next class. Bella is "indecisive" (no shit!) about going dress shopping with the girls, despite being in a good mood (which is also why she didn't greet Mike "half-heartedly", as she implies she normally does). Why she's "in a euphoric mood" is a bit less clear. Is it because she's firmed up her commitment to doing nothing? That hardly seems like something to be euphoric about.

As was my routine, I glanced first toward the Cullens' table. A shiver of panic trembled in my stomach as I realised it was empty. With dwindling hope, my eyes scoured the rest of the cafeteria, hoping to find him alone, waiting for me. The place was nearly filled--Spanish had made us late--but there was no sign of Edward or any of his family. Desolation hit me with crippling strength.

Oh. That. Bella's "in a euphoric mood" because it's been, gosh, two whole days since she last saw Edward, but her long personal nightmare is about to end. Nearly forty-eight hours after she last saw him, she's going to see him again! Only, he's not there! Oh no!

I shambled along behind Jessica, not bothering to pretend to listen anymore.

Bella's so despondent she can't even pretend to listen! It must be True Love.

I'm sure there was a period in your life, my little droogies, when someone's two-day absence could be a cause of friend-ignoring despair. There certainly was in mine. A period around age fifteen. I don't mind teens and 'tweens going gaga over this tripe. (Well, at least not for this particular reason.) What I don't get is how anyone outside that bracket can read passages like this without burning the book to ashes and then doing a haka on the smoldering remains.

And there's more. So, so much more....

Angela asked a few quiet questions about the Macbeth paper, which I answered as naturally as I could while spiraling downward in misery. She, too, invited me to go with them tonight, and I agreed now, grasping at anything to distract myself.

I realised I'd been holding on to a last shred of hope when I entered Biology, saw his empty seat, and felt a new wave of disappointment.
I was glad to leave campus, so I would be free to pout and mope before I went out with Jessica and company. But right after I walked out the door of Charlie's house, Jessica called to cancel our plans. I tried to be happy that Mike had finally asked her to dinner--I really was relieved he finally seemed to be catching on--but my enthusiasm sounded false in my own ears.

He's probably "finally catching on" because you finally told him clearly that you aren't interested. I don't know, that might just have helped him get the message that you aren't interested.

Now, it's clear that, because Meyer likes Bella and wants us to like her, too, we're supposed to understand that her enthusiasm sounds "false" because she's depressed about going an entire day without seeing Edward. But because Meyer is a bad writer (and because Bella is a bad person), it's equally likely in this context that Bella's enthusiasm sounds false because, even though she straight up told Mike no thanks, she thought he would continue to pine for her. Hearing that he's now asked Jessica out, Bella tries to feign enthusiasm, when she's really disappointed that Mike will no longer be shutting Jessica out in order to fawn over her.

It's all because of that "I really was relieved he finally seemed to be catching on". (Well, that and the Bella-is-a-bad-person thing.) It's almost, almost a bit of self-awareness on Meyer's part, this extra effort to assure us that Bella's really really glad Mike won't be pursuing her anymore. No really, I'm so happy for you. Just so, like, happy. For you. Y'know? That's great. That's...that's really great.


 *Meyer's grasp of the English language is so bad I keep feeling like Sylvester Stallone's character in Demolition Man, constantly having to correct Sandra Bullock's malapropisms. "It's taken aback and caught, caught off-guard!"