Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

29 July 2009

This Is Hard

Last night I dreamt about Andrew again. I suppose this kind of thing doesn't really go away.

Losing him continues to hurt. It is hard for me to talk about, I guess, but I feel like everyone is sick of hearing about it anyway. Funny how that happens. But I am not over it. I am still seriously grieving.

I finally watched his movie The New Twenty, too, which I recommend if you knew Andrew (I don't recommend it if you didn't know him: it's kind of a mess).

23 July 2009


I recognize that a lot of popular film critics have commented that there are far too many feelings in the movie. But the problem with David Yates's Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince as I see it is that it spends far too little time on feelings that matter and too much time on nonsense.

The most important feelings (as I recall--and it's been awhile, so I could be screwing this up) in the book version of HP6 are Draco Malfoy's personal struggle with trying to get that transporting cabinet to work, his coping with being a failure etc. and the brilliantly written chapter of the book where Dumbledore and Harry go to destroy the locket/horcrux in the grotto. In the book Dumbledore begs Harry not to feed him any more of the liquid because he is in so much pain and Harry, despite his love for his teacher, uses trickery and deception to get Dumbledore to drink it. In other words, he knows that he is causing his father figure pain, but he pushes through it, at much psychic expense to himself. It is a thrilling, powerful sequence. In the book.

In the movie neither of these real emotional struggles is given much time. They don't seem that important to screenwriter Steve Kloves or director Yates. Michael Gambon doesn't even really step up his acting in this sequence.

Instead of interesting and complicated emotions, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince spends most of its time surveying the lovesick machinations and foibles of the teenage denizens of Hogwarts. HP6, of course, has nothing new to say about teenage love, and it isn't particularly interested in bringing a new perspective, anyway. Rather, it spends its time confirming everything we already know about adolescent emotional rollercoasters, and in making us all feel like we are so much wiser than the kids in the film. We smile at their lovesicknesses and absurdities because we have already emerged from this phase of our lives and into the "serious phase" where love has actual consequences. It's all very shallow.

Still, there is some good stuff in HP6. Jim Broadbent is a wonderful Professor Slughorn. And he is actually acting in the film (unlike Gambon). I also really like Nicholas Hooper's score. And I think that the three leads are becoming really delightful actors. Daniel Radcliffe has some moments as Harry that I would even venture to call inspired. (I thought the entire Liquid Luck sequence was fantastic). And I love me some Emma Watson.

22 July 2009

Bill O'Reilly on the Topic of White Men

I see his point. He's an idiot, but this is standard neo-conservative fare and no more racist than his usual nonsense. The new link to the video is here (YouTube took it down):

What I don't get is how he can say that the supreme court is not "stocked with white men" just because of Justices Ginsburg and Thomas. I mean, two justices of the current nine are not white men. And the entire history of this country's interpretation of the law (that is, 99 of the 101 justices prior to the Roberts court) were also white men. That means that ALL of the rulings of the supreme court for its ENTIRE HISTORY have been decided by a majority of white men. ALL. By which I mean Every. Single. One.

In other words: The law in the United States for the entire history of the United States has been written and interpreted by a majority of white men. This is not debatable.

The statement of these facts enrages powerful white men because they wish (like Senator Lindsey Graham) to pretend that questions of race do not influence their decisions. The truth is, of course, that these powerful white men know that race influences their decisions, otherwise they wouldn't be so worried about race possibly influencing one of Justice Sotomayor's decisions.

This racism is so blatant it is shocking. What do they think that Sotomayor is going to do when she gets on the court? I'll tell you what they think: they think she might somehow manage to infringe on the base of power that these white men have built for themselves. That is what threatens them. And this betrays just how white and male the power base already is.

Oh, the Internet.

Today, I was tagged in a facebook note in which José Esteban Muñoz, Ramón Rivera-Servera, and Jill Dolan were also tagged. Pretty nice company, I feel.

I recognize that this might not mean a lot to many people, but I am starstruck by important scholars like teenage girls who love Jesus are starstruck by the Jonas Brothers.

15 July 2009

Some More 2009 Movies from July

Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker is the best movie of 2009 so far. Easily. This movie is intense and moving and, well, just plain awesome. It's a movie about a bomb-defusing squad in Iraq (I know films about the Middle East are not popular with the USAmerican public, but there have been a couple of really good ones lately.) Bigelow's film is the most suspenseful movie I've seen in years, though. The bomb sequences are intense and crazy, and I found myself not breathing for pretty much the film's entire running time. At two points in the picture my jaw dropped at the The Hurt Locker's sheer audacity. This movie is incredible. Go see it. Unequivocally recommended.

Brüno is, as it turns out, a lot like Borat. Except that it doesn't work as well. The film, in fact, doesn't really work at all. Still, Brüno is a really funny movie and has some cracking good jokes. I laughed pretty much all the way through it. And I think the film is occasionally clever, too. It is certainly very clear about its stance on homophobia—Brüno is very scary in this respect, too: it shows just how unsafe it is to be queer in the mid-west United States. But Brüno also left me feeling empty. Its message isn't that interesting, and star Cohen and director Charles don't really uncover anything we didn't already know about middle America. I am not sure any of us realized how racist many people in the U.S. are, but we all know how homophobic everyone is, don't we?

At any rate, Brüno is missing something. Perhaps that something is likable characters, or perhaps that something is a real narrative for which one can root. But whatever it is, Brüno doesn't have it.

I thought Todd Phillips' The Hangover was pretty funny. I also thought it was homophobic and racist. But, then, I am surprised when various cultural products are not homophobic and/or racist.

The Hangover is also completely absurd. The stars of the film are less interesting than, say, the stars of Wedding Crashers or Dan in Real Life, but the situations in The Hangover are still pretty funny. Plus it's about Las Vegas. And, as you all know, I love me some Vegas.

More Sotomayor

Is it just me or is Senator Lindsey Graham a bit... well, dumb?

I was listening to a little of the Sotomayor hearings (I am in love with her, obviously) while I was driving around Los Angeles yesterday. First I heard Senator Schumer question her. He focused on demonstrating that Justice Sotomayor is not empathetic with anyone in a way that impedes her ability to decide questions of law based on the rule of law. The questioning was rather boring but it was pointed and intelligent (and had a very clear agenda.)

Then Senator Graham started questioning her. And I got confused. He seemed really upset that Justice Sotomayor was on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund (PRLDEF). What he seemed most upset about was that PRLDEF has said in briefs (evidently quite frequently) that to deny public funds for abortions for impoverished Latina mothers is a form of slavery. PRLDEF and its lawyers obviously were interested in advocating to gain access to funding for abortions for poor women of color.

Graham seemed to want to trap Sotomayor into saying that she actually believed that such a point of view was an accurate one. He is not intelligent enough to actually trap Justice Sotomayor into doing anything, but what I don't understand is the issue itself.

How is this not an important issue of race? Public funds are issued to help people who are out of work because of injuries, they are issued to help women and men who lose their spouses, they are issued to parents with children who have disabilities. But what we don't want to do is issue funds to a poor woman who doesn't wish to have a baby. These are the same men who complain about "welfare queens" sucking the state dry. Why shouldn't these women have access to healthcare? Because they are not white?

Am I simplifying this issue too much by seeing it simply as an issue of race? It is also, obviously, an issue about sex. (Discussions of race almost always involve discussions of sex, I find.) This white man is afraid of the sexuality of these young Latinas. And he is interested in controlling that sexuality, regulating it. Because young women of color cannot be trusted to regulate their own sexuality.

This is racist and misogynist. There is really no other way to put it.

It seems to me, though, that it would be nice for someone to call the Senator out on his racism and blatant misogyny. There is a lot of discussion of race at these hearings—as far as I can tell this is only because the white men who oppose her are bigots—but it seems to me that all of these gestures toward pluralism are very silly.

At some point Senator Schumer was asking Justice Sotomayor if she had empathy with some black policemen who sued because they were discriminated against because of race and I was thinking: doesn't everybody? The answer, of course, is NO. Everybody doesn't have empathy with people of color who suffer discrimination. Many people in this country do not believe that we have a problem with racism here.

These hearings are just another example of the fact that we indeed do have a race problem in the United States, and that many, many people actually still think it is okay to hate people of color.

Okay, I am depressed now.

06 July 2009

Pfeiffer Plays Courtesan

Stephen Frears' Chéri is an uneven romance set in Paris during the Belle Époque. The movie stars Michelle Pfeiffer as the courtesan Léa, Rupert Friend as her lover Fred (whose nickname Chéri provides the film with its title), as well as Kathy Bates and Harriet Walter. The film is based on two books by French novelist Colette.

I'll get right to it. The film doesn't work from the get-go and then continues unevenly for most of its remaining running time. I am calling Chéri uneven because it constantly aspires to be a better film than it is, and those flashes of hope appear every once in a while, making believe that underneath this film a really good movie was just waiting to come out. The writing is occasionally very clever, but more often than not it feels stilted and even awkward.

The acting doesn't always work either. Rupert Friend is very pretty, and that is his main job in the film (looking pretty is the character's primary vocation, as well), but his concept of the character is dour and moody, which left me constantly wishing he would crack a smile or give a wink every once in a while. The trouble here is that the audience needed to fall in love with Chéri, but instead we just wonder what he's thinking about that makes him so unhappy. We worry for him instead of adoring him. I wish Rupert Friend had taken a slightly more light-hearted approach. I understand that having everything that one wants in the world can be a little depressing, but it is certainly enjoyable on occasion, and, after all, a young man in love ought to at the very least get a modicum of pleasure out of the object of his affection.

The production design is kind of a mess, too. The costumes are beautiful, but the film is in the lower-budget range and, unfortunately, looks it. There are only about four exterior sequences and Paris looks very empty. Perhaps it seems distasteful to gripe about this, but much of the pleasure of a period piece, I think, is derived from viewing a series of ridiculously gorgeous costumes and eye-popping set pieces. Chéri's producers cannot really deliver on this, and the film suffers as a consequence.

Okay, I am saying a lot of bad things and I want to move on to the reason why this film—despite these problems—is going to be so high on my 2009 list.

Chéri's ending is superb. It's an awesome, bold, fantastic ending for this film. The end of the movie is so good that the more I think about Chéri the more I like it. I can't get the film's last minutes out of my head. I am not going to spoil it, but the finale somehow makes everything that led up to it worthwhile and sensible. An example of this is the voiceover narration that takes over at a couple of points in the movie. I found this slightly irksome during the picture itself, but the masterful ending needs the narration to work as well as it does, and so it justifies its use earlier in the picture.

Anyway, Chéri, to sum up, doesn't really work. And then it works. Really well.

04 July 2009

"I Love You." Works Every Time.

A few thoughts on Michael Bay's latest movie: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:

1. I must be honest about things and say that Revenge of the Fallen, unlike the original Transformers from 2007, is mostly coherent. I followed the plots just fine and they all (mostly) made sense.

2. Megan Fox is totally hot. Shia LaBeouf is very cute but not cute enough for her.

3. The hottest guy in the movie is actually Ramon Rodriguez who plays Shia's super-nerdy roommate Leo Spitz (he's supposed to be Jewish, I guess??). Leave it to a Hollywood blockbuster to cast an extremely hot guy as the dorky best friend. Rodriguez is very funny and does some nice work in this role.

4. The film was making sense to me until the end (I am spoiling things here but it doesn't really matter) when Shia almost dies and then sees a vision before coming back to life. This is what I don't get. Shia sees the vision of all of the dead Primes and they speak to him and they tell him things, to wit: you cannot find the Key of Whatever; you have to earn it. Okay, so I was like "how are the Primes still alive? Are they in some kind of alternate realm/universe space? Let's assume they are not. Let's assume that they only exist in Shia's vision: like a hallucination. So they aren't real, but that actually cannot be. Because then the Key is somehow materialized and becomes real! This means that the Primes (the Prime Council?) somehow made a decision that said that Shia earned the Key, right? And then they changed the Key from dust back into the Key. For me this is where the movie really goes off the rails. Even if I buy all the science fiction of this film, this is where the film itself actually stops playing by its own rules and starts peddling lunacy.

5. Julie White is wonderful. As usual. Her comedic scenes are all fabulous.

6. Why why why do all of the robots have different accents? How is this possible? Like, I understand that they are voiced by all different actors—Mark Cullen and Michael York (!) and Hugo Weaving and —but they are an alien race who (evidently) speak English on their home planet. Now, if they all speak English on their planet, why doesn't their English all at least sound similar? From whom did they learn English? Is it just picked up from humans on Earth? And if so, where?

7. In terms of visual effects the movie is really cool. I mean, all of this computer-generated business means I care less about what is happening, but they were cool to watch from a technical standpoint.

8. One of my biggest problems with the movie is the same problem I had with the first one, which is that I couldn't tell the good guys from the bad guys and so I had trouble rooting during the battles. They're all just giant hunks of metal to me. How am I supposed to know who to root for while they punch one another?

9. Which leads me to the biggest problem I had with Revenge of the Fallen. This is, again, a problem I had with the first film. You're a technologically advanced robot alien who can jump and run and change into a car/truck/motorcycle in a matter of seconds and all you can think to do when you fight is throw a fucking punch?? This movie is better about that than the original, but still. By the end of the flick I was sick of these metal boxing matches. The last battle (which goes on forever) I will grant you, has a robot who inhales things, and that is pretty cool, and there is a cane which is used as a weapon, and another robot who uses some kind of heated sword thing, but mostly there is just a lot of pugilism. This alien race, I would imagine, would have invented more sophisticated and more interesting ways to fight one another—freeze rays and invisible shields and disabling energy blasts and I don't know: technologies a little more advanced than an old-fashioned left hook.

10. Overall, kinda boring (especially near the end) but not worthless. If you are into effects you will be into it. Revenge of the Fallen isn't always coherent and I didn't always know who was winning or who to root for, but if there's a dull moment, wait a couple minutes and something will explode and there will be action again.

11. I was gonna stop at 10 but then I thought of one more thing to say but now I've forgotten. Oh well. Ponder this: I feel like calling a movie "Revenge of the Fallen" was just asking for this joke. Transformers: ROTFL. In truth, Michael Bay and his co-producers probably are laughing. All the way to the bank. And into Transformers 3 which will be out in 2012.