Archive for August, 2006
Hurrah for Netflix! Without it, I’m not sure we would have ever been able to rent “Slings & Arrows,” the obscure but extremely well-reviewed Canadian TV show about a contemporary Shakespeare theater.
For years, the fictional New Burbage Shakespeare Festival has been giving audiences slick, expensive, comfortable productions of the Bard’s plays, and then encouraging them to buy little stuffed Shakespeare dolls at the theater’s gift shop. The Festival’s Artistic Director, Oliver Welles, was once a genius, but is now so jaded that he no longer cares about producing original theater.
Oliver, it turns out, also dies within the first episode, hit by a truck carrying “Canada’s Finest Hams.” This macabre hilarity pervades all six hour-long episodes of the first season. Oliver also returns as a ghost to plague/comfort his former protege, Geoffrey Tenant, who is called on to replace him as the Festival’s Artistic Director, despite his reputation as a madman.
Geoffrey, you see, went mad on stage years ago while playing Hamlet (in a New Burbage production directed by Oliver when he was still an artiste). Now, the fact that he sees a ghost no one else sees doesn’t help to promote a reputation of sanity. What’s more, Geoffrey is opposed to everything the current New Burbage theater stands for: corporate success above artistic integrity. He’s bound to make waves, and he does, most notably when he challenges Hamlet’s new director to a sword duel.
“Slings & Arrows,” like Stage Beauty, is primarily an ode to the art of theater. When Geoffrey delivers instructions to actors, instructions that make the actors suddenly understand their characters, you want to stand up and cheer. But it’s the simultaneously reverent and irreverent playfulness with Shakespeare’s most famous play that really keeps things moving.
Most importantly, the show also features what may be the best theme-song lyrics ever, in the opener “Cheer Up, Hamlet,” sung by two old codgers who kind of function as New Burbage’s Statler and Waldorf. Here, for your delight, are the full lyrics:
Cheer up, Hamlet
Chin up, Hamlet
Buck up, you melancholy Dane
So your uncle is at hand
Murdered Dad and married Mum
That’s really no excuse to be as glum as you’ve become
So wise up, Hamlet
Rise up, Hamlet
Buck up and sing the new refrain
Your incessant monologizing fills the castle with ennui
Your antic disposition is embarrassing to see
And by the way, you sulky brat, the answer is “TO BE”!
You’re driving poor Ophelia insane
So shut up, you rogue and peasant
Grow up, it’s most unpleasant
Cheer up, you melancholy Dane
Any song that tells Hamlet to “shut up” and “grow up” is fine by me! (No offense to the play, which I do love.)
Alas, this will be my last Ottery entry for a couple of weeks. “K” and I are leaving tomorrow for Istanbul. Yes, Istanbul (or Constantinople, which may be more appropriate in this case, as K is a Byzantinist). We’ll spend a week there and a week in Egypt, mostly at Mt. Sinai. I’m incredibly excited about the travel opportunity and thrilled about my traveling companion, though I will find it very difficult to be without my Porpoise and my Cherub for two weeks. No doubt I will have much Ottery material when I return!
August 20th, 2006
Okay, this YouTube video probably won’t make sense unless you are familiar with evangelical subculture lingo and you also know Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” I realize that may narrow it to a fairly small audience, but, well, you can always hope . . .
It’s particularly amusing to those of us who spend a lot of time comparing Bible translations.
August 19th, 2006
Okay, you know how I said in my last posts that Esther de Waal quotes tend to crystallize whatever I’m thinking, writing, and talking about? I found yet more connections to her “margins” quote when reading Victor and Edith Turner’s 1978 classic Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture.
The Turners discuss how, in the later Middle Ages, the Church began to centralize control over pilgrimages, even making pilgrimages to Rome obligatory for archbishops and diocesan bishops. As the Turners describe it, “Structure, not communitas, is made central to this pilgrimage obligation.” However, they note, “one result of structuring the center is that communitas breaks out, like solar coronas, all over the peripheries, in spontaneously engendered pilgrimages, crackling with charisms [manifestations of grace].”
That not only makes me think of the de Waal quote, but of Browncoats vs. the Alliance in “Firefly”/Serenity as well–there’s certainly a strong sense of communitas on board Serenity.
August 17th, 2006
Esther de Waal, Anglican Celtophile and lay Benedictine, is one of those very few spiritual writers in whose books I continually find images or quotes that shift my view slightly, or sometimes encapsulate what I’ve always felt but have never put words to. Her small book Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality is a fascinating meditation on paradox, on living tensions rather than trying to resolve them. It’s so cool that I even snuck it into some of my non-blog writing.
I’m just now reading de Waal’s more recent book Lost in Wonder: Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness. Though I’m not yet very far into it, I’ve already found one of those quotes that seems to relate to everything I’m thinking and talking about right now. Here ’tis:
“An American lay woman who is fortunate enough to be associated with a Cistercian abbey, describes her experience of the institutional Church as that of finding ‘no room at the inn.’ But she tells us that when there is no room in the traditional structures, ‘God with us’ becomes a reality in the stable, on the margins.”
I won’t comment on that much, because I know that many of you, like I, often feel there’s no room at the inn for people who aren’t interested in busy-busy “churchy” stuff. A lot of us keep going to church anyway, because Jesus can still be there even if we can’t stand the other people who worship him. But we find our real spiritual nourishment and community on the margins. Anyway, I knew many of us shared this experience, but I hadn’t thought of it in spatial terms of “inn” and “stable.”
It’s also kind of neat that the Cistercian abbey–what many people might think of as a “traditional structure”–is a “margin” for this laywoman. It’s nice to be reminded that margins can be opened up anywhere, that stables can exist inside inns. And, as those of you who’ve read The Last Battle know, stables can contain the whole world.
August 16th, 2006
Weird sleeping positions seem to run in the family. For example, here we have the Cherub, parented by me and Porpoise:
And here we have Tirian the Sheltie puppy, parented by my, um, parents (Which would make Tirian the Cherub’s uncle? So confusing!):
Obviously genetically unrelated, living 1,000 miles apart, and yet they sleep in almost exactly the same bizarre position. Do you think they may have acquired this trait from their humans?
August 12th, 2006
Porpoise, Dormouse, and I just re-watched Joss Whedon’s Serenity on DVD—which is fitting, because we all saw it together in the theater. At that time, I hadn’t yet started The Ottery, I hadn’t yet watched any episodes of “Firefly” (the TV series of which Serenity is a continuation)—in short, my life was sadly lacking.
I’ll always be thankful to “Firefly” and Serenity for allowing me to offer proof that I don’t automatically dislike all sci-fi involving spaceships, just spaceship sci-fi with “Star” in the title. The key, of course, is not actually the title, but the fact that “Firefly” and Serenity are well-written. Now, that said, I know that creator Joss Whedon drew a lot of his inspiration from Star Wars. Bully for him. However, his writing style, his characters, and his world-creation appeal to me much more.
In case you’re not a “Browncoat” (inside term referring to “Firefly”/Serenity fans), both are set in our world in the future, a future in which the U.S. and China, as the two greatest superpowers, have united to form the Alliance. Thus, there are Chinese cultural influences peppered throughout the series and movie—our characters usually swear in Chinese. Also, the Earth “got used up,” and so humans spread out to populate other planets. The Alliance extends its influence over the central planets, which see themselves as the sole representatives of civilization. Planets on the fringes, however, rebelled. The rebels, known as “Browncoats,” fought their quixotic last at the Battle of Serenity Valley.
Skip a few years. Browncoat Malcolm Reynolds, one of the few survivors of the Battle of Serenity Valley, now runs his own spaceship—aptly named “Serenity”—with a crew that assists him in his outlaw life. They conduct their heists mainly on the fringe planets, where life resembles that of the Old American West, only with better technology and Chinese swear words. One of my favorite details: Serenity’s crew refers to their small land hovercraft as “the mule.”
Occasionally Mal and the crew take on passengers, the most notable of whom is River Tam, who, at the time she is brought on board by her brother Simon, seems to be merely a mentally troubled teenage girl. However, she gradually reveals more of her true nature in the TV series, including the fact that she can read people’s minds, and in Serenity, we learn that, due to Alliance experiments upon her, she is a fearsome human weapon, and that she knows a big secret.
From the Serenity trailers, I originally thought that the Alliance Operative was pursuing River because of her ability to kick, punch, and incapacitate people while looking extremely graceful (actress Summer Glau, who plays River, is a ballet dancer by training). But early on in the film, we discover that the Operative is after her because of the secret she knows, a secret that could potentially undo the Alliance.
Through the events of Serenity, the ship’s crew learns this secret. I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that it involves the theme of trying to eradicate human sin. It’s definitely an interesting theme for me, and it seems to be one that moviemakers think has wider resonance, because you may have noticed that it’s also a theme in the recent Batman Begins. In fact, I saw Serenity and Batman Begins at about the same time, and the thematic similarity of the two were a major part of what made me consider starting The Ottery.
Both Serenity and Batman Begins send the clear message that any attempt to make humanity sinless will fail—and, in many cases, it will even backfire. I wonder whether this is an idea particularly appealing to Gen-Xers and subsequent generations who, having seen the Baby Boomers’ idealism dissipate in broken relationships, have no such illusions about human perfectibility.
If you watch the deleted scenes from Serenity (and I highly recommend that you do), you’ll see that Whedon, though he’s not exactly religious himself, allows the movie to introduce another perspective on sin. Shepherd Book, a preacher who had at one point been a passenger on Serenity, recites the following prayer:
Lord, I am walking your way.
Let me in, for my feet are sore,
my clothes are ragged.
Look in my eyes, Lord, and my sins
will play out on them as on a screen.
Read them all. Forgive what you can,
and send me on my path.
I will walk on, until you bid me rest.
Kind of a high-tech cowboy King James Version of the Lord’s Prayer. I’m sad that Joss deleted it. His commentary track for this scene says that he originally swore he would never cut it, but that he eventually came to see that it interfered with the film’s momentum. Momentum, shmomentum. Give me theme development! (And of course, since it’s me, it doesn’t hurt that this theme development is in the form of a prayer.)
I also liked this scene because Shepherd Book is officially my hero. In the “Firefly” episode “War Stories,” he saves the day by shooting the villain’s legs. Zoe asks him, “Preacher, don’t the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killing?” “Quite specific,” Book answers. “It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.”
Tee hee! Not exactly my ideal pacifist position, but a lot funnier (and more appropriate to a space-Western).
Anyway, I wish there had been more Shepherd Book in Serenity. In fact, as much as I liked the movie—and I did like it, in spite of being very, very scared of the Reavers—my biggest problem with it was its change in tone from the series. The subject matter does demand a darker tone, but, still, I feel jarred by the discontinuity. Maybe it’s mostly because Whedon had planned to continue the story arc in TV series form, where things could have developed more gradually. As any anguished Browncoat will tell you, though, Fox cancelled “Firefly” in 2003, after 14 episodes. Whedon considers it a miracle Browncoat revolution that this little, ragged, but beloved, show was revived and allowed to continue on the big screen. Watching Serenity, though, I miss the humor of the small screen. There’s still a lot of witty banter and brilliant dialogue, of course, but not as much as in the “Firefly” episodes.
Guns and weapons failed against the Alliance, and I have my doubts that exposing and broadcasting their secrets will defeat them, either. But laughter? Maybe that could bring them to their kneecaps.
August 8th, 2006
This week we Netflixed a movie simply because it had Natalie Portman in it, and we hadn’t yet seen it. The movie in question was 1996’s Beautiful Girls, and the 14-year-old Portman is the best thing in it. (She was 14 at the time of filming, though her character was 13, and she would have been 15 by the time the movie was released. Just in case you were wondering.)
Portman’s age is a big deal here, because one of the many sad schlumps populating this working-class Northeast town has a bit of a crush on her. He’s 27. His name is Willy, and he’s returned home for a visit after several years of trying to make a living playing piano in New York. He’s clearly got family issues with his father and brother, but the movie—wisely, in this case—doesn’t really dwell on these. Instead, it focuses on Willy, his high school buddies, and the various ways in which they each idealize female beauty, while neglecting the real women beside them.
The movie’s pretty blatant about its theme—you couldn’t miss it from ten miles away, even without Rosie O’Donnell’s funny and accurate, but extremely out-of-place, soliloquy about Penthouse, Playboy, and other such magazines. The reason it’s out-of-place? O’Donnell’s character seems to have been inserted into the film simply to deliver this tirade. Actually, that’s the case with most of the characters, male or female: they’re each there to serve a particular function in delivering the movie’s message.
Anyway, back to Natalie Portman. Though Willy has a girlfriend his own age, it’s clear to see why he’s fascinated by Portman’s character Marty. She’s got a rapier-sharp wit, she’s capable of amazing psychological insight, she’s extremely literate, and, oh yeah, she’s pretty. We see all this through a series of outdoor conversations between the two (Marty lives next door to Willy’s father and brother). Despite the obvious age difference problems, Porpoise and I found ourselves somehow hoping that Willy would wait around for Marty to reach legal age.
Of course, in real life, a 27-year-old developing a crush on a 13-year-old would be pretty creepy, not just because of the 14-year age gap, but mostly because Marty’s character is essentially still a child. A very mature child—an “old soul,” as she says—but a child nevertheless. Fortunately for everyone involved, Willy has decided, by the end of the movie, to settle down with his girlfriend, rather than waiting for Marty to grow up or trying to find an already grown-up version of her.
Yet, again, I think part of the reason we found ourselves rooting for Marty-and-Willy was that their conversation truly is on the same level. It’s a problem no doubt familiar to many of us girls from our teenage years. The boys our own age were typically eons behind us in emotional maturity, and yet older men could possibly be predators. Though I certainly wasn’t as quick with the one-liners as Marty when I was 13, I could identify with her character. Growing up, I spent an unusual amount of time around adults, and when I started dating, I actually had to become younger, in a way. My mom, when I was a teenager, told me that she could imagine me marrying someone a good bit older than I was. But then, after Porpoise and I became friends but before we were dating, before Mama Chipmunk had even met him, she had the wisdom to point out that we sounded like kindred souls, even though he was only two years older—because we watched Muppet movies together. That was the key for me: finding someone mature enough to be childlike.
But, when I was a teenager, there didn’t seem like much hope. Despite attending a high school of 3,000 students, I felt like I’d exhausted all the desirable resources by the time I was a junior. No doubt many of today’s teenage girls are in a similar position. No doubt many of them find conversation at their own level online. And no doubt they also find scary older men who are actually looking for relationships with teenage girls. Ick.
Beautiful Girls mostly tells the story from the perspective of its male characters, so it doesn’t really deal with Marty’s side of the dilemma. And that’s fine, because that’s not really what the movie is about. Marty is simply there because she’s one more expression of the tempting, but un-live-able ideal.
Portman plays a rather similar, but older, role in 2004’s Garden State, another movie that chronicles a confused twenty-something boy-man’s return home. The parallels are numerous, though I liked Garden State better. For one thing, Portman’s character, though she displays a childlike joy in life, is only a few years younger than Zach Braff’s, so a believable romance can actually happen between them. The film also addresses emotional healing in, admittedly, some heavy-handed ways, but I resonated more with the theme of dealing with depression and guilt than with the “growing up and accepting reality” theme of Beautiful Girls. Plus, I like Zach Braff’s face.
But I’m glad we saw Beautiful Girls, if only because it introduced us to a charming character.
August 4th, 2006
This just in: Helena Bonham Carter will play Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
HBC is a great actress, but somehow she doesn’t fit my mental image of this particular villain. I’ve always envisioned Lestrange as taller, darker, more angular. Kind of like a mean Cher.
Since I last checked IMDB on Order of the Phoenix, there have been a lot of casting additions, including Luna Lovegood, Nymphadora Tonks (sorry, Dormouse), and the young versions of James and Lily Potter, Snape, Lupin, and Sirius. No pictures of the latter few.
My biggest question about Order of the Phoenix is, of course, whether or not they will include Hermione’s Patronus, which is, naturally, an otter.
P.S. I have just learned from Wikipedia that J.K. Rowling’s favorite animal is the otter. Huzzah!
August 3rd, 2006
Oh, so much excitement. Not only is Hugh Jackman in every single movie coming out this fall (The Fountain, The Prestige, Happy Feet, a.k.a. The Dancing Penguin Movie), but he’s going to be in a musical again. On the big screen.
Unfortunately, this movie musical is going to be Carousel. Blech. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s worst. It’s a hugely important musical in the history of musicals, but as far as I’m concerned, its only real contribution to society is that it provided “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for Eddie the Computer to sing in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (book, not movie).
Still, there will be dancing. And larger numbers of people will get to see Hugh Jackman for the singing-and-dancing sensation that he truly is.
So far he’s reprising Gordon MacRae’s musical roles . . . I think he needs to branch out. What musical remakes (or first-makes) would you like to see him in?
August 2nd, 2006
Just an update for those of you following casting for The Golden Compass: Kidman’s role is now official. (Porpoise actually saw the news before I did and said, “Nicole Kidman has now been confirmed.” “I thought she was already Catholic,” I said, confused. “Except for that little Scientology phase.” Then Porpoise clarified that he was referring to casting, not religion. My interests get mixed up sometimes.)
Oddly, IMDB also shows that an actor named Adam Godley will be playing Pantalaimon, Lyra’s daemon. I assume this means the voice only. I suppose it’s a new challenge to create a CGI character who constantly changes form.
August 2nd, 2006