Monday, July 13, 2009

Weekend Movies and Television

I'm plunging back into a more serious work schedule this week (aside from the mandatory time off to see the new Harry Potter movie, of course) after a somewhat light schedule last week. I'm happy to report that my house has remained mostly clean for two weeks now. There are a couple of spots of situational clutter that would have to be tidied for company, but I've also done some maintenance cleaning, like dusting, vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom, since the last major cleaning. I still need to tackle the office, but that will have to wait until it's not so hot. The office is upstairs, and there's a skylight, so it gets pretty stifling at this time of year. I can tolerate it in the morning and at night with the ceiling fan on, but I have to stay out in the afternoons. Since that's where the Internet is, it really helps with my productivity (yes, having to stay out of my office helps with my productivity). When/if it gets cooler, then I can do things that require moving around in my office.

Since I wasn't on a frantic writing schedule, I got a lot of movie/TV watching done over the weekend (really, starting on Thursday).

First, there was Sydney White, a reasonably cute teen movie that I watched because I like fairy tale-based stories, and this was a modern, non-fantasy version of Snow White. Sydney is a tomboy who grew up around construction sites with her widowed father (John Schneider, who somehow manages to be a lot hotter now than when he was young and in The Dukes of Hazzard). When she goes off to college, she pledges her late mother's sorority because she hopes that will make her feel closer to her mother. But when the witchy sorority president gets jealous of her and casts her out in public humiliation, she ends up living in a rundown old house with seven dorks. There were some clever touches to bring the fairy tale into the modern era, like a "hot or not" site that serves as the magic mirror that declares who is the fairest of all, and they do something really fun with the poisoned Apple. However, I would like to remind writers that Disney did not originate this story, although Disney did create those specific dwarf personalities (Happy, Grumpy, etc.), and you are not limited to the Disney version of the dwarves, as they are not actually canon. I think what I liked most was the romantic subplot because, for a change, it wasn't based on "opposites attract" and conflict. They actually liked each other and had reasons to like each other, then the conflict showed up at the crisis point of the movie when it seemed like all would be lost. I'm so tired of the "bicker, bicker, oh, we're in love!" relationships. The thing holding this back from being a better movie was the fact that the villain was so one-dimensional. Her status made no sense (you're not going to be elected sorority president if every member of the sorority loathes you, and you're not going to be elected student body president if everyone in the school loathes you), and there was no motivation at all for her rather extreme actions. She was just a straw woman for our heroine to knock down.

Which brings me to a mini rant that may lead to a full-fledged rant someday. Hollywood writers (TV and film), please find a dictionary and look up the word "popular." In the words of Inigo Montoya, you keep using that word, and I do not think it means what you think it means. "Popular" is not a synonym for "universally loathed." According to my dictionary, it means "favored or approved by people in general," so if everyone hates someone, she is, by definition, not popular. Even if you go with the second definition, "favored or approved by acquaintances," and say that means she's liked by the people who matter, at the climax of just about every story about popularity the popular girl's friends confess to loathing her, so she's not even popular there. In order for someone to be popular, someone has to actually like her. What you write as "popular" is a bully, and most TV or movie "popular" characters would not actually be popular in the real world.

Anyway ... the next HBO OnDemand special was Fierce Creatures, the follow-up to A Fish Called Wanda. I loved Wanda, but somehow never saw the later movie (which is not actually a sequel. It's just a lot of the same people involved). The story follows what happens at a small British zoo when new ownership demands more profit, and the first scheme to raise profits is to pander to the public's love of violence by displaying only "fierce creatures." The result is a minor war between the zookeepers and the new manager "(John Cleese) as they try to persuade the new manager that all their cute, fluffy charges are actually terribly vicious beasts, and he tries to convince them that he really is cold and ruthless, even though he's got a soft spot for the animals. This may be the rare case where I thought Kevin Kline's presence brought the movie down because I was far more interested in seeing how the "fierce creatures" scheme played out than in the digressions they went into once his character took over. I wanted to see the result of the "fierce creatures" zoo, which we never really did because it got buried by all the corporate sponsorship and costumed zookeepers nonsense (though there was a bit of funny stuff there).

I guess I was still in a British farce mood because Saturday night, Turner Classic Movies showed The Mouse That Roared. I'd read the book ages ago, but had never seen the movie. It's been so long since I read that book that I don't know how faithful the movie was, but since it was mostly a vehicle for Peter Sellers to play multiple characters, I somehow doubt it was too faithful to the book. It's a rather droll story about a tiny European country that decides the way to get an influx of cash is to declare war on the United States, lose, and then get "rebuilt." (It's set in the 50s, while the US was pouring money into Germany to rebuild it). Except, they somehow manage to win when their 20 longbowmen manage to "invade" New York and capture a physicist and the terrible new bomb he's created without anyone noticing. It's not as funny as I wanted it to be, but it did have a few laugh-out-loud moments.

A friend recommended "Man vs. Cartoon" on TruTV, and I caught a bit of a marathon on Sunday afternoon. Basically, engineers and engineering students try to recreate all of Wile E. Coyote's roadrunner-catching schemes and make them actually work. It's both educational and highly amusing, but I'm not sure a marathon is the best way to watch because it starts becoming obvious that most of the schemes are just variations on each other. Which may be why Wile E. Coyote never caught the Roadrunner (and I have to admit, I always cheered for the Roadrunner because he was cute and blue).

Meanwhile, all the characters on Merlin remain Too Stupid to Live, and I've come to the conclusion that True Blood is just too unpleasant for me to watch. That would fall into the category of "not really my thing." It was quite a relief to admit that to myself.

Oh, and I finally caught the pilot of Warehouse 13, and I think I might like it. I have to admit that it's mostly because I really like the main guy, who is cute and funny, and who strikes the right balance between being an adult and having some childlike wonder. I was worried that they were going to go the bickering, opposite partners route, but it seemed like they'd become a real team at the end of the first episode, so maybe they'll do something wild and crazy and have a team that actually likes each other, with the conflict being between them and the rest of the world rather than being with each other. I am getting a wee bit tired of the "easygoing man/uptight, driven woman" cliche (another rant in the making), but I'll let it slide for now until I see how the series plays out because she has curly hair, and it actually got frizzy the way real curly hair does when she'd been been through all the action/danger stuff. I can forgive a lot with if there's a curly-haired character whose hair behaves like real curly hair and if they don't do something like straighten it when she's supposed to be particularly pretty or making some positive character change.

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