Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Calm down, Francis--Pottermania Up Close and Personal

I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 at the midnight premiere. Now, don't get me wrong...I LOVE Harry Potter. Okay, let me clarify: I love all seven of the books dearly. The movies? Well, I like them. I've seen them all. I know I've seen at least four of them at the midnight premiere. But somehow, for me, the movies never managed to catch the...well...magic of the books.

That's a personal opinion. I know lots of people--and I mean the kinds of people in whose opinions I generally put great stock--who adore the movies. But let's have a little perspective, people. I'm pretty sure that the bulk of the other people at the theater with me that night had LOST THEIR MARBLES. At the very least, they all seemed to be involved in some mass-hysteria. And I mean the kind of pervasive, simultaneous mass-hysteria that leads to things like the Salem Witch Trials. And I'm not talking about dressing up. 'Cause that's kind of cute. And while I've never personally done it for a movie, I've been to see movies where the audiences consisted of stormtroopers, Jedi, Starfleet officers, Klingons, elves, hobbits, and vampires of the non-sparkling variety (I'm not gonna touch the sparkly vampire movie crowd, because that bunch displayed a kind of fanatacicsm that verged on the terrifying and I consider them to be the Hezbollah wing of fandom). Hell, I attended the second Fantastic Four movie with a ten-year old in full Thing costume. Even the other HP movies didn't seem to elicit this kind of nutbar response.

So again...perspective is key here. Especially for the two girls in line behind me at the snack counter who were almost in tears due to the MOST EXCITING THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED IN THE WORLD OF FILM. No, really. The line was long. I was with these girls for a while and their entire conversation consisted of reassuring each other that NOTHING THIS IMPORTANT HAS EVER HAPPENED IN A MOVIE THEATER BEFORE AND NO ONE HAS EVER LOOKED FORWARD TO A MOVIE AS MUCH AS EVERY PERSON IN THE WORLD HAS LOOKED FORWARD TO THIS.

Look, ladies, I know it's exciting to think that you are part of something unique. And in a way, for Harry Potter, that's true. You are a generation who entirely WITHIN your generation followed the entire story of Mr. Potter from the first book to the last movie. And it IS exciting. It's fun. And it's sad that it's over. But you didn't invent crazy fandom.

Says the yo-yos who camped out in line at Mann's Chinese for THREE MONTHS in the spring of 1999 to make sure they got tickets:

(And I can't judge them, really, since I waited in line for twelve hours on the day it was released to make sure I got tickets to the first showing. I also schooled people at Trivial Pursuit: Star Wars Edition while I waited.)

Or speaking of Star Wars...please observe the mob scene at Mann's Chinese in May of '77 when the ORIGINAL Star Wars movie was released. And remember that this bunch had never even seen a Star Wars movie. They were this excited over something they knew only from trailers and nerd rumors:


But really, the fans who are scoffing at the whole lot of you--Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry and the sparkly vampire brigade--are these:


This picture was taken outside the Loew's Grand in Atlanta the night of December 15, 1939 at the premiere of Gone With the Wind. Hundreds of thousands of people--some estimates say half a million--lined the streets. Tickets sales were such that for four solid months after the premiere, every showing of the movie in Atlanta was standing room only. In London, where it premiered during the Blitz, it ran for four solid YEARS. And adjusted for inflation, it is still (and probably always will be) the top-grossing film of all time.

So, be a fan. Be a crazy fan. But don't think you youngsters invented it. Old people have been crazy like, FOREVER.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Worst Thing Ever In the History of Film Media

It's been almost 20 years since I've taken a math class. Eighteen years, to be precise. That math class is a story in and of itself, but it is where it was last emphasized to me that if one makes a mistake at the beginning of a long and complicated problem, said mistake compounds itself as one continues to work. My crazy, French Calculus professor (and it's too bad you can't hear the explanation in his hilarious, excited French accent--he was always VERY excited about Calculus) explained it thus, "If you make a tiny mathematical error here, then your graph is just a little off when you start plotting, but the further you get from the starting point, the wider the space between where you are and where you're supposed to be." This seemed fairly useless information at the time. I wasn't going to be a math major. I only took the class because the University said I had to do so to graduate. However, Professor French Guy had a very important point. One that, it turns out, is easily applicable to other parts of life.

Like miniseries.

I think it has been well documented previously that I freaking LOVE a miniseries. They are so much fun. Long. Usually pretty soapy. Dramatic. TONS of people who either used to be famous or are about to be. My two favorites are War and Remembrance and North and South. They're war-centric and based on hugely popular books. The former is pretty faithful to the novel. I guess you really don't have to go for added histrionics, romance and melodrama when the central plot involves an American Jewish lady who gets trapped in Nazi-controlled Europe and ends up in Auschwitz. In the latter, some tweaking happened--characters were combined, characters who weren't killed were and characters who were were not, and in the third installation, George and Madeline's marriage of convenience was turned into a mad-hot, sex-up-against-the-porch-railings torrid affair, and what's not to love about THAT? Anyway, the point is that even when a miniseries goes way, WAY off the rails (please see for reference Scarlett which has little to do with the book on which it's based. Which is convenient because the novel, Scarlett, has little to do with Gone with the Wind) it can be so spectacularly awful that it still is totally awesome. We like to call this the Grease 2 Phenomenon.

And the point of all that is to tell you that Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning is the most horrible thing that has ever happened. Ever. You see, with the advent of Netflix, hundreds, nay...hundreds of THOUSANDS of films, tv series, documentaries, miniseries and assorted other watchable-type things which I would have previously had to track down and purchase for an exorbitant price were suddenly right at my fingertips. Which is why, when it came up in my 'suggested' list I immediately put it in my queue. Wait...not just that. I moved it to the TOP of my queue. Now admittedly I was a little leery. This is actually the fourth Anne miniseries. The first two, which are absolutely SUBLIME, were made in the mid-80s, and starred, as Anne Shirley, Megan Follows, who was just amazing. They cover (with a smidge of dramatic license which I heartily condone) the first four books written by Lucy Maud Montgomery about the spunky red-haired orphan. Like I said...a few tweeks. The period of the mini is (weirdly) moved forward about 15 to 20 years from where it is in the books. Anne is a couple of years older to start out, ostensibly to accommodate having the same actress--again, the imcomparable Miss Follows--play Anne all the way through the story. The entire fourth book is moved, timeline-wise, to the middle of the third book. The love interest in Book 3, used to potentially spoil the main romance of Anne and Gilbert is scratched, and an infinitely better romance is placed into the story of the fourth book (because, if you've watched it, dashing, taciturn, Darcy-esque Morgan Harris is WAAAAAAY better than bores-to-tears Roy Gardiner). So long story long...the first two Anne of Green Gables miniseries are made of win.

The third? Not so much. The EIGHTH Anne book is about Anne and Gilbert only peripherally. It's really about their six(!) children during WWI. The third miniseries bastardizes this horribly. Since the story was moved forward in time in the original outing, it's Anne and Gilbert involved in WWI. Which would be okay if the story wasn't so ludicrous and silly. The tiniest slivers of story were gleaned from the book and the rest is just...idiotic. It's not the worst thing ever, but it's..bad. Not over the top enough to verge into true, cheeseball awesomeness and not close enough to the characters as I know them to actually care.

Which is why I was both horrified and intrigued by the fourth miniseries. And it managed to fulfill my every desire. At least as to the horrified part. It's AWFUL. First and foremost, Anne is played by Barbara Hershey. Which...just NO. AND in the first minute and a half...GILBERT IS FUCKING DEAD??!?!?! WHAT THE HELL??!?!?! I already hated it, but I kept watching. And then it goes into this supremely asinine flashback, where we are supposed to be shown Anne's life BEFORE she was adopted and came to Green Gables. Which would be fine IF it didn't contradict EVERY. SINGLE. THING. Anne had ever said about her past. Thus making her, rather than a charming and imaginative child, A PATHOLOGICAL LIAR. As if that wasn't enough, the newly retconned backstory involves Shirley MacLaine. Who should know better. Because she's an awesome, awesome lady. And yet she's involved in this tripe. I mean, she's good, 'cause she's still Shirley MacLaine, but everything around her--from the scenery-gnashing child playing Anne right on down to the dreadful backstory and bore-you-to-tears,grown-up Anne story--positively reeks.

I realize that if you aren't the kind of person who loved the Anne books and original miniseries this would be but a merely subpar television happening. But for me, and I guess all true fans, this was an anathema. It was literally so awful that with probably half an hour to go, I took the DVD out, laid it to the side and then blocked it so thoroughly from my memory that Netflix sent me an email saying, "Did you forget to return our DVD?" because I was watching things on instant queue instead.

Sorry, Netflix. It was trauma-induced amnesia. You can have the DVD. In fact, please...take it now. And remember that YOU are the ones who recommended the stupid thing in the first place...so don't be surprised when I sue you for intentional infliction of emotional harm

Friday, April 15, 2011

I have obviously been a very, very good girl...

Yesterday, the weather here was sublime. As such, I had the sunroof open. Which provided an opportunity for a bird. To poop on me. And no, that's not some hilarious reference to Triumph, The Insult Comic Dog. I actually got pooped on. However, Kel pointed out to me that getting pooped on is actually lucky. I'm the first to admit that I had some doubt as to the veracity of Kelly's little factoid. I certainly didn't feel lucky yesterday. No lottery. No marriage proposal. I didn't even find money in the pocket of my jacket (which I had to wear today, because the weather was just...well, sucky).

And then this happened....

And it was most definitely worth a bird pooping, because OH. MY. GOD. Actually, to judge from the reaction when I posted this picture on facebook, the reaction of pretty much every female I know is "OH. MY. GOD." Actually, from a couple of guys, too. One of whom used the phrase "sex on legs". Which is, I think, a pretty apt statement.

My seriously insane crush on Mr. Rob Lowe is no big secret. I saw The Outsiders when I was about 10 and I was pretty much a goner. And then The West Wing happened and while I wanted to do bad, bad things to Bradley Whitford's fiery, adorable Josh, I wanted to MARRY Rob Lowe's sweet, idealistic, insanely handsome Sam. In fact, I still do.

Hence, in honor of The Best Magazine Cover Ever, I'm gonna give you my Rob Lowe Top Five Not To Be Missed:

5. Wayne's World, Austin Powers and Tommy Boy--Yes, they are the very definition of sophomoric humor, but awesomely so. Especially since, in each, Rob Lowe is essentially spoofing...Rob Lowe. Or at least spoofing the fact that he's just ridiculously good-looking.

4. The Stand--To this day I rate this as one of the scariest things that has ever happened. And also one of the most awesome. Because I like to point out that in this miniseries, Rob Lowe shows shades of the Sam Seaborn to come--sensitive, heroic, ridiculously good-looking. Plus, his character is mute. So he's mad hot and SILENT. Which in many situations equals the ideal man.

3. St. Elmo's Fire--I thought about putting the aforementioned The Outsiders in this spot, but really, there's just too much distracting eye-candy in that to properly appreciate Rob Lowe. And here I can appreciate him. I can appreciate him playing the saxophone. I can appreciate him explaining, with the aid of a blowtorch, that most problems are like St. Elmo's Fire. I can appreciate that he's willing to help shy and awkward girls lose their virginity. All while being ridiculously good-looking.

2. If the Shoe Fits--I think we can safely award this one the Xanadu Honorary So Bad It's Good Award. It's a Cinderella knock-off. Also starring Jennifer Grey. Rob Lowe plays a fashion designer and wears a series of HILARIOUSLY awful outfits while speaking with a HILARIOUS accent. And yet it's like a drug. You can't stop looking at it. So bad it's good AND did I mention that he's ridiculously good-looking? 'Cause he is.

1. The West Wing--Duh. I would think this being number one would go without saying. Because this is the moment when you stop thinking about how Rob Lowe is ridiculously good-looking and start thinking about what a ridiculously good actor he is. I'm in love with Sam Seaborn. Things you need to know about Sam: 1) Ridiculously good-looking. 2) Super smart. 3) Wears monogrammed shirts. 4)Just the sweetest guy ever. 5) Because it can never be reiterated enough-RIDICULOUSLY GOOD LOOKING.

If you haven't watched these things in whole or part, then I have to ask...WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Get on this, PRONTO.

Seriously, ABC Daytime. SERIOUSLY?!?!?

Yesterday afternoon, I was coming home from my voice lesson when I get a text from my Best Guy Friend, Taylor. The sum total of the text was, "Are you alright?" Since to the best of my knowledge, I hadn't in my immediate past been killed or maimed, I texted back, "Is there a reason I wouldn't be?" And that, lads and lassies, was my introduction to yesterday's gut-punch of an entertainment news tidbit--ABC has canceled both All My Children and One Life to Live.

Ok, in all fairness, it wasn't COMPLETELY out of left field. The vast webs of internet rumor mills have swirled for months with whispers of the imminent cancellation of one show or the other. That ABC had uprooted AMC from its NYC home so that it could consolidate its scripted daytime television into a one-coast operation (General Hospital is a west coast show) and OLTL was going to be canceled. That AMC was getting the ax so that ABC had one show on each coast. Rumors, rumors, everywhere. But somehow, I was laboring under the delusion that cancellation, at least within the realm of soaps, was something that happened to: a) glacially-paced CBS soaps watched mainly by people born during the first Roosevelt administration. The first TEDDY Roosevelt administration. b) NBC shitfests like Passions. c)A stream of half-hour ABC filler soaps that came on between the noon news and AMC.

But AMC and OLTL? Really? They've both been on the air for more than forty years. Maybe I...maybe we ALL should have been more prepared, though. In the last few years, both Guiding Light and As the World Turns have been canceled. And they had both been on the air since God was in short pants. GL started out as a radio show, for heaven's sake. I guess, though, I had a real sense of detachment. Mostly because I can count on one hand the number of full episodes of GL I had ever seen and I'm pretty sure I had NEVER seen an entire episode of ATWT. The ABC soaps are different.

I'm the first to admit that among the Big Three ABC shows (I never had more than a passing interest in Ryan's Hope/The City/Loving/Port Charles--aka The Half Hours), my first and greatest love was and is and ever shall be General Hospital. I've watched it the longest by far and it's the only one that I've watched without significant breaks. But I've watched them all. In fact, there was a brief moment, practically a millisecond in soap time, where I would have told you, with some conviction, that AMC and not GH was my favorite. Perhaps the most succinct way to put it is thusly: This time it's personal, bitches. Because even when I wasn't watching regularly (and it's been years since I would even consider myself a casual viewer of either show), I kept up, at the very least enough to tune back in for major events on both shows.

And so All My Children has approximately five months to wrap up FORTY-ONE YEARS of stories. THAT'S FORTY-ONE YEARS OF ERICA EFFIN' KANE. It would take more than five months to wrap up a recap of Erica's latest marital woes. Much less her, you know, LIFE. One Life to Live is lucky, I guess. They have 'til next January. But they also have to tie up ends with Ms. Viki Lord. And she's got more than one personality, so that's no easy task, either.

I just wish there as a way to properly express my rage. Because I've developed a heady need to kick some asses, starting with one OJ Simpson, whose stupid-ass trial delayed and pre-empted the soaps for eons and dealt them a ratings blow from which they NEVER recovered, and ending with that of Brian Frons, the current head of ABC Daytime, who has been nothing short of condescending, insulting, arrogant, and clueless with regards to the soap audience since he took the job. My best course of action is to direct you to the Serial Drama girls, whose blog, often filled with frothy rage directed at the "writing" on the various ABC shows, is so awesome that it landed them a writing gig at a real live soap magazine. If you want to get a good idea of the rage I'm feeling, their five years of rantings about the precipitous drop in quality of daytime dramas, particularly those of ABC, their vitriol is without compare and I agree with pretty much everything they've ever said. (Except about Jax and Brenda, because I don't roll that way. S&B4EVA!!)

Actually, though, while the rage is not insubstantial, the most real and most enduring feeling I'm having over all this is sadness: for the hundreds of people who work on these shows who now...won't. For the actors, especially the ones like Susan Lucci and Erika Slezak who have given their lives and careers to these shows. For the big name actors who got their starts on AMC and OLTL and who still look back on the shows with fondness and gratitude. For the no name actors who got their SAG cards playing waitresses and cops and clerks on the shows and the ones who got a paycheck for pretending to drink coffee in the background. But most of all for the fans. Because these characters were and are our friends.

Someone I know was reading about this (it was in the NY Times this morning) and said, "Well, who watches those shows anyway?" I do. And my friend, Anne Marie, who is one of the smartest people I know. And my little sister, who watches because I watched. And my friend, Hannah who has three pre-schoolers and said that the only hour of the day when she feels like she doesn't have to deal with "Dora and that damn monkey" is when AMC is on. And my friend, Michelle, who works in advertising, who I met my first week of college because she was watching the ABC soaps in the sorority house TV room and I heard it and went in to talk to her which I normally would have been way too shy to do.

I'm sure that in the five months leading up to The End, I will have lots more to say on this subject. But for now, I'm gonna leave it with the immortal words of Agnes Nixon (and this is really how so many of us feel:

The Great and the Least,
The Rich and the Poor,
The Weak and the Strong,
In Sickness and in Health,
In Joy and Sorrow,
In Tragedy and Triumph,

(And also, EFF YOU ABC DAYTIME!!!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Love in the Afternoon

I have been, up until today, surprisingly detached from the forthcoming nuptials of my all-time second favorite couple EVER on General Hospital. It's weird, really. I spent the entirety of my college years wanting Sonny Corinthos and Brenda Barrett to make it to the altar. And six months ago, when she returned to the show and they fairly quickly entered into a (re)whirlwind romance, I was bizarrely underwhelmed. It felt forced. It felt weird. It felt awkward. And the most strange of all, it felt almost completely free of the scorching, white-hot chemistry that the two actors always seemed to possess. And so, while I had been aware that this wedding was fast approaching--it was hard not to really, since they talked about it all. the. time.--I just couldn't muster any real enthusiasm.

Until the last few episodes. When all of a sudden this whole mess of a show (and, frankly, I think the show has been spiraling into a vortex of suckitude for the better part of a decade) suddenly morphed, as it's wont to do, into one of it's tragically brief periods of awesomeness. General Hospital has been, since the late '90s, wildly erratic. Months of story lines so poorly and nonsensically written as to be painful to watch tend to give way for a week or so into something so gloriously soapy and old-school as to be, in a word, delightful. Now, granted, many of the individual elements of this show, many of the individual elements of this wedding, even, are still horrible. But somehow, they are all mixing together beautifully. It's like vanilla flavoring, I guess. It's really foul by itself, but thrown into the batter it turns out to be pretty awesome.

It's not over. It could end up horribly, horribly wrong, as it so often does. But for right now--and we're only at the "does anyone object?" part--it's SAH-WEET. To quote the imcomparable Soapdish, "THIS is what I was talking about. THIS is soap opera." What it is, y'all, is good, old-fashioned Love in the Afternoon. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Winds of War

Even though I actually watched it more than a month ago, I'm gonna have to tell you about the first entry in my Netflix mania viewing. It's so odd. I hadn't thought of this miniseries in forever. Actually, to be honest, I had never actually seen this one. The Winds of War originally aired wen i was seven and since it was something like 18 hours long and about the lead-up to America's entrance in WWII, I somehow missed it. I did, however, watch every last minute of War and Remembrance, which was based on the second Herman Wouk novel about the Jastrow and Henry families and which spanned Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima (and I've just rewatched all THIRTY hours of that one, so we'll get to it, too). I had, though, read the book. And that, combined with the absolute reverence in which I held the miniseries of War and Remembrance, led me to expect much, maybe too much, of the first miniseries.

I'm going to start by saying that the whole thing is exquisitely and lavishly made, top to bottom. Since this was made smack dab in between Roots and North and South and one year before The Thorn Birds, I think that it's safe to say that it epitomizes the heyday of the epic, Event miniseries. And I do mean Event with the capital letter. It follows two families--the Henrys, an American naval family, and the Jastrows, a Jewish family, with members scattered from Poland to the USA--from the months leading up to the German invasion of Poland, through the first two years of WWII and then concluding in the week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In many ways, The Winds of War (and its sequel) are very different from most of the other Event minis. For example, The Thorn Birds exists on the fringes of world history, so that although the characters sometimes mention things happening in the world at large--such as secondary characters going to fight in WWII--it's never really part of the action. In the North and South minis, the historical aspects of the story--the Mexican War and the Civil War, in particular--are much more central to the plot, but the battles and speeches are all seen from the viewpoint and perspective and through the involvement of one of the characters. The Winds of War is different. While HUGE parts of the story focus on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and also on their fictional involvement with non-fictional events, there are also portions of the story where the history itself BECOMES the story. It's a very interesting narrative tool, actually, and makes even the fictional parts seem much more tangible.

So, as I said before, I actually watched the second miniseries first, and I think that most of my "problems" with this stemmed from that. In War and Remembrance, the most interesting plotline, by far, at least in my (at the time) thirteen-year-old eyes, was that which followed Natalie Jastrow Henry, an American, married to an American naval officer and trapped in Europe at the time the United States enters the war. AND SHE'S JEWISH, which meant OHMYGODTHEDRAMA. In any event, Natalie is played in the second series, by Jane Seymour. Who is absolutely perfect. In the original, she is played by Ali MacGraw. Who is way too old and also...can't act. There, I said it. I really thought she was kind of awful. The other half of the romance, Byron, the Henry son who becomes a reluctant naval officer, was played in W&R by Hart Bochner, who was really good and terribly handsome. In this, Byron is played by Jan-Michael Vincent. Who really seemed like an odd choice to me. Oh, the acting was fine, but he's not a THING like the Byron described in the book. And there was also the small matter of me singing the Airwolf theme song in my head every time he was on screen, which I realize is a personal problem, but a distracting one, nonetheless.
The other main character (and actually MOST of the secondary characters where played by different actors in the second series) who was played by a different actor is Aaron Jastrow, Natalie's uncle and an American ex-pat author who's the reason she's in Europe to begin with. In this it's the incomparable John Houseman, who because of health reasons was replaced by the incomparable Sir John Gielgud in the second. So that's pretty much even.

Frankly, apart from my problems with Ali MacGraw (and I don't mean this harshly, but I don't think she's good in ANYTHING and include in that assessment Love Story), this is probably the best-acted, across the board, of any of the big miniseries. At the least it's tied with Roots. The three main actors who remained the same in the second series--Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen and Victoria Tennant--are predictably excellent. Mitchum, especially, gives a tour de force performance as Victor Henry, the family patriarch.

In short, The Winds of War has held up AMAZINGLY well. I'm a WWII junkie, so I'm predisposed to like it, even without the added bump of having seen and adored the sequel. I can't recommend it enough. It's not available on Netflix Instant Queue, so you have to actually get the DVDs, but it's well worth it and one of the best miniseries ever made. I still prefer the sequel (also available and also not on Instant Queue) and I think if the entire thing is too daunting, you could skip this and still easily follow War and Remembrance, but really, seeing the whole picture is much more compelling. This one's a solid A-.

Like I said on the other blog...REBOOT

As I have had some sort of viewing epiphany (at least that's what I'm gonna call it), I have decided that, like the song says, let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. My viewing epiphany, is, in a word, Netflix. I've had it for a while. I got it so that I could get a few movies a month and not have to buy them without testing them out. Which I had been doing way to much of and thus was ending up with any number of subpar offerings in my permanent collection. Plus, as far as regular viewing...well, that had been pretty odd, too. Last season, I watched exactly ONE episode of American Idol, which I had watched almost religiously since it started. And while I haven't completely given it up, there have been any number of times where I forgot to watch Law & Order: SVU. I have, of course, watched Glee like nobody's business and I really like (although it's only been two episodes) Matthew Perry's new show, Mr. Sunshine. AND, I have been to the movies...well, almost not at all. So I really didn't have much to say.

Until this whole Netflix thing. Especially the watching online part of Netflix. Which I am quite enamored of. I have watched about a zillion documentaries in the last month, so I can at least claim that there's some merit to what I'm doing.

In any event, I hope that this is my restart. If you are laughing at such a supposition...well, you're probably right, but miracles happen.