Monday, May 31, 2010

The O.C. (Television)

You can tell a lot about a show from one episode.

The O.C. (2003-2007) is a high budget teen soap opera set in wealthy Orange County, California. In spite/because of its ridiculousness, this series is very popular. I enjoy mocking bad tv while secretly enjoying it, so I watched (most of) an episode.

Unfortunately, The O.C.’s terribleness baffles rather than amuses me. The choppy editing gives the impression that sections are missing. A boring, poor kid (Ben McKenzie) lives with a nerdy, rich kid (Adam Brody). The rich guy, who is smart because he is “writing a novel,” is codependent on the poor guy. The poor guy is in love with a rich girl (Mischa Barton) who is neither interesting nor believable. Their extremely original courting scenes involve giggling and falling into a pool.

The rich girl and a girlfriend (Rachel Bilson) discuss their fathers’ credit cards. Her girlfriend makes fun of someone for being poor. The rich girl’s ex (or is he?) boyfriend laughs at a poor person. Remember, they are privileged.

Also, you should know that parties with poor people are hardcore because they feature strippers and guns. Because of this, the poor guy has to babysit his rich friend.

Their parents are busy fulfilling other stereotypes. Mothers are bitchy, backstabbing gossips. Fathers are too boring to watch.

There are a few good lines and a few good actors. Most of the time, the writers’ and actors’ attempted manipulations of the audience were painfully evident. TV really IS bad.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Inglourious Basterds = The White Ribbon

Some might find the comparison bizarre at best. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is grim but humorous, an absurd adventure. Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon is grim and… grim, a stark, subtle horror. (Its moments of charm are overwhelmed with dread.) Still, the two films have certain similarities.

1. Each is close to two and a half hours.
2. Both received negative reviews from the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor (the two newspapers I read most frequently.)
3. Both were at least 10 years in the making. (Mostly in the mind of the director.)
4. Both were directed and written by the same person.
5. Both were nominated for best movie Oscars (best film and best foreign film). Both lost.
6. Both are oversimplified by critics. (Inglourious Basterds is oversimplified by just about everyone, including fans.)
7. Both are in my top [insert number - let's say, fifteen] movies.
And then there are the obvious:

8. Both are set in Europe.
9. Both include German actors speaking lots of German. Yep.
10. Both occur during or before a World War.

There you have it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich

The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor named Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves a best book of the year. Narrated by several individuals, her novel spans the history of Pluto, North Dakota and an adjacent Ojibwe reservation. Evelina, a young half-Ojibwe girl, listens to the tales from her grandfather Mooshum. We also hear from Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who falls in love with Evelina’s aunt, and follow his ancestor and namesake in Pluto’s early existence. Histories intertwine, and the present repeats and contradicts the past.

The Plague of Doves resembles a short story collection, though its chapters are more interconnected and less complete than short stories. Erdrich lovingly details the mannerisms of individuals and wide-sky thunderstorms, but the use of multiple speakers can distance and confuse the reader. Still, moments of brilliance and humor emerge in situations dramatic and mundane. The delightful but flawed Mooshum is a poignant creation. Holy Track is a haunting but underdeveloped figure. One dazzling section is told by the mentally ill Marn Wolde. She is married to the fascinating Billy, a Messianic (or satanic) figure of terrible charisma.

Unfortunately, Marn Wolde’s wild commentary suffers from a lack of clarity, as does almost every segment. Dramatic events affect characters too little or too much, distracting from what is actually unfolding. Stereotypical characters like the heartless, self-righteous Father Cassidy also detract from the story’s power.

Starvation, murders, lynchings, kidnappings, and romances connect in fated coincidences. However, a lack of realism and narrative drive muddies beautiful imagery. Thus the supposed final punch is more hollow than gut wrenching.