Saturday, February 26, 2011

And The Oscar Goes To...

[Also at Newsgrape.]

Golden Globes, Baftas, Grammys – awards season limps onward to its apex (or nadir, depending on your perspective): the Oscars. If you have a film-lover in your life, you will know that we can’t stop talking about the Oscars – or the Academy Awards, as we call them when being pretentious – but we constantly bitch about them. “It’s all politics,” we say. “The Academy only likes ‘worthy’ films. The Academy hates genre pieces, women, and people of color. The Academy gave Best Picture to Shakespeare In Love. It’s all a nonsense.”

These complaints are entirely legitimate, but the Oscars is still the highest-profile award ceremony, and a nomination or win can really boost interest in independent and foreign movies; so, if you’re at all interested in the current shape of the film industry, you have to watch. (Plus – do I even have to say it? – mocking it is such fun.)

Black Swan

My favorite of the Best Picture nominees – I went to see it twice. Half the world loved it while half hated it, which is a clear sign of cinematic greatness (see also: Tarsem’s The Fall).

Three-word summary: ballet, lesbian, psychosis

It will win: Best Actress for Natalie Portman

I would give it: Best Picture, Best Sex Scene, Best Set of Influences (Lynch, Cronenberg, Argento)


I saw Inception in a little English-language theater in Munich. It was the ‘surprise film’ screening, and my companion was irrationally fearful that the surprise would be Sex & the City 2, even though I kept saying it would be Inception. Being proved right was even better than the movie.

Three-word summary: dreams within dreams

It will win: Best Visual Effects

I would give it: Best Director, Best Score, Best Film by a Former UCLU Film & TV Society Member

Toy Story 3

And I saw Toy Story 3 in Amsterdam, where I was not the only grown-up scrabbling frantically for Kleenex in the final reel.

Three-word summary: Toy Story 3

It will win: Best Animated Feature

I would give it: Most Kleenex Required

True Grit

The Coens’ five best movies are Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, A Serious Man, The Big Lebowski, and No Country For Old Men. True Grit isn’t quite up there, but it is hell of entertaining.

Three-word summary: badass little girl

It will win: Best Supporting Actress for Hailee Steinfeld, Best Cinematography for Roger Deakins

I would give it: Best Female Character, Best Jeff Bridges

The Social Network

Does The Social Network hate women? I would argue no; it just doesn’t care about them enough to give them any portrayal outside the perspective of a character who does hate women. Which, you know, four of the ten Best Picture nominees this year have a female protagonist, so maybe that’s some kind of progress.

Three-word summary: jerk invents Facebook

It will win: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay

I would give it: Fastest Talking, Most Sympathetic Jerks

The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech was pretty good, for a film about the monarchy, but I stand with this NPR article, which argues that a movie focused on Lionel Logue would be more interesting (and not just because he treated my great-grandfather IRL).

Three-word summary: stuttering monarch speaks

It will win: Best Picture, Best Actor for Colin Firth, Best Original Screenplay

I would give it: Best Casting Of Derek Jacobi, Most Flagrant Oscar-Bait

127 Hours

Surprised me by being very gripping and getting me completely invested in a pretty basic story about a pretty douchey guy. But if my brother thought he was going to die and made a video mentioning me as little as the dude mentions his sister in this film, I would be Deeply Hurt.

Three-word summary: jerk severs arm

It will win: Best Editing

I would give it: Grossest Sound Design, Most James Franco

Winter’s Bone

What a disappointment. I really wanted to like this film, and I still want to champion it because it is the most low-profile of the Best Picture nominees – and because Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is fantastic – but I just found it kind of dull. I feel bad.

Three-word summary: winter, poverty, meth

It will win: probably nothing

I would give it: Dirtiest Sounding Title, Best Performance In A Boring Film

The Kids Are All Right

Again, I went in hoping for the best, but I was mostly bored.

Three-word summary: nothing much happens

It will win: also probably nothing

I would give it: also probably nothing

The Fighter

Snoooooooooze. At least some of the punch noises were funny.

Three-word summary: Rocky or whatever

It will win: Best Supporting Actor for Christian Bale

I would give it: Most Boring Film That Isn’t Blue Valentine, Most Flagrant Bechdel Test Failure, Funniest Foley Artistry

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Razing Ruth: Escape From Hierarchalism

The past few days, I’ve been glued to the archives of Razing Ruth. Ruth is a survivor of an abusive upbringing in a Christian cult; on her therapist’s advice, she has been blogging about it for the past eighteen months or so.

You might know about the Quiverfull movement through the Duggars. If you are less obsessed with American pop culture than I am (which, trust me, you are), you might not have even heard of the Duggars, in which case you are in for a voyeuristic, Schadenfreude-filled treat. These fundies believe that God decides how many children they have; apparently God’s decision is “lots” – at the moment, 19 and Counting. The name Quiverfull (QF) derives from Psalm 127:

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!

Ruth has ten siblings. Her parents are members of the personality cult of Bill Gothard, whom you can read about in this AlterNet article. They brought up Ruth and her siblings to believe that girls and women should obey the family patriarch in everything. They must never wear pants or cut their hair. They must never question the father’s/husband’s authority. If a man had inappropriate or lustful thoughts about them, it was their fault for being immodest and provocative. Ruth ran away when her father betrothed her to a young man she barely knew and didn’t like, who considered her his “property”.

This rape culture within a rape culture (rape culture squared, if you like) is a prime example of the evils of religious authoritarianism. In the name of ever-loving God, the tyrannical patriarch rules over his wife and children with an iron fist by brainwashing them with lies that take the hallowed name in vain. This is called hierarchalism. The chain of command is God --> man --> wife --> children. Abuse is handed down from a false conception of God through a totalitarian construction of family life. It is poisonous, despotic, unchristian, and wrong wrong wrong.

Sadly, Ruth’s is not a isolated case. This is how the Westboro Baptist Church (absit omen) operates. It’s how all cults operate; and, on a lesser scale, it’s how conservative religious communities operate. Ruth is an astoundingly courageous (and, judging from her writing, a truly good) person, whose escape from terrible oppression is both heartbreaking and affirming.

All people of faith who recognize the toxic evil of this false notion of God need to speak out. We need to openly deplore the appalling abuses committed in the name of Love. We need to join communities like ThruWay Christians and Christians for Biblical Equality. We need to make it known that these tyrants and cult leaders do not speak or act for God or for God’s people. For the sake of all the Ruths in the world, in every country and in every faith, we need to stand up for the truth. It will set us free.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Terrible People Saying Terrible Things

[As always, cross-posted at Newsgrape.]

A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me this link. I know it’s long, but I’ll wait while you read it.




Welcome back! That article is the reason I made a resolution to quit supporting the Daily Mail. Not that I’ve ever bought it, given it my money, recommended it to a friend; but, like many a sneering leftie (the Mail website gets three times as many hits as any other paper’s), I used to occasionally follow links to their more ridiculous articles, so I could chortle in disgust and self-righteousness at the wilfully ignorant hatemongering about “gay maths”. The Mail, though, doesn’t know I’m mocking it; it still registers as a hit, and that increases the site’s popularity and helps generate ad revenue for a truly repulsive institution. In short, my self-righteousness was unjustified, and now that I’ve resolved never to visit the Daily Fail website again, I can be properly self-righteous about it.

However, all the leftist brownie points this resolution gets me are cancelled out by my ongoing sick fascination with the awful Simon Heffer.

My parents have a personal vendetta against Rupert Murdoch, but they find the Guardian’s Saturday crossword too difficult; so, every Saturday, they take the Telegraph. They are the first to admit that it’s a dreadful bloody paper, and they frequently talk about subscribing to just the crossword online so they don’t have to be seen buying it, but bad habits die hard, and anyway they like having a TV Guide.

There are a few pages of the Telegraph that I always look at: the back cover, which has the crossword and the weather; the birth announcements, which sometimes include some real gems (“Zavier Thomas Knox, a brother for Zakari and Zahra”, “to Spencer Harvard-Walls and Tabitha Aldrich-Smith, a beautiful daughter, Tatiana Skye”, “Christobel Sophia Eleanor, a sister for Charlotte Grace Alexandra” – and those are just from the past couple of weeks); and Simon Heffer’s column.

Simon Heffer is a truly odious man. For a while I thought he might be a satirist, a sort of British Stephen Colbert; then I wondered if he could be a time traveller from 200 years ago, brought forward by a controversy-hungry newspaper to rail against modern society from his deeply unpleasant, reactionary standpoint; but, honestly, he’s just an ass.

Heffer is the perfect example of somebody with his head so far up the patriarchy that he can’t see what a raving misogynist he is. He boasts of “gallantry” (vomit) and says things like “how can the Commons take speaker John Bercow seriously if he can’t control his wife?”. This is a columnist being published in a mainstream newspaper in 2011. In the same column, he made mention of his wife, and I am gravely concerned for Mrs Heffer’s wellbeing, given that she is married to a man who publicly states his belief – IN 2011! – that a husband should “control his wife”.

His misogyny is evident in slightly more subtle ways too. I recall, during the recent Labour leadership contest, a column throughout which he referred to David Miliband, in true former public schoolboy fashion, as “Miliband D”, but condescendingly called Harriet Harman “Hattie”. A man who insists on giving a woman politician a patronizing nickname is clearly a man who has deep and troubling issues in his attitude toward women generally.

Heffer also seems to be going for a world record in his invocations of Godwin’s law. I envision him throwing a dart at a customized dartboard in order to choose which group of self-evident non-Nazis he will accuse of Nazism this week. Recent targets have included people who believe in man-made climate change and, brain-achingly, people who speak out against racism, sexism, and homophobia. Given the baffling frequency with which they accuse assorted left-leaning groups of Nazism, I am beginning to wonder if certain right-wingers are privy to some little-known documentation – Hitler’s Very Secret Diary, perhaps? – in which the Nazis outlined their plans to end discrimination, promote equality and tolerance, and make all concentration camps carbon-neutral.

Or, you know, maybe they’re just idiots.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Charlie Vs. Barney: A "Womanizing Jerk"-Off

[Cross-posted at Newsgrape.]

So, Charlie Sheen is in the news again, but this time a few people who wouldn’t normally comment are taking notice. The refrain seems to be concern for Sheen’s health, even his life, because his show, Two And A Half Men, is such a money-making machine that nobody will ever tell him regular human things like ‘no’ or ‘beating your wife is not okay’ or ‘seriously, man, just get your ass to rehab and stay there’.

The people expressing this concern are not fans of Two And A Half Men. Personally, I don’t know anyone who is a fan of Two And A Half Men, though an awful lot of people must be, given the average 15 million US viewers it’s been drawing for seven seasons. Full disclosure: I have never actually seen an entire episode, only clips. Coming perilously close to doing some research, I considered watching one before writing this article, but come on, that’s 22 minutes of precious Word Bubble time.

What I do know, from my extensive readings on this here internet, is that Charlie Sheen’s character, imaginatively named ‘Charlie’, is that breed of person known in ye olden times as a manly man, and in modern scientific circles as a humongous douchenozzle. He hooks up with a bazillion different women and is a jerk to them, in episodes with charming titles like ‘Round One to the Hot Crazy Chick’ and ‘The Crazy Bitch Gazette’. If I’m to believe articles like these, this is more or less the entire premise of the show.

Coincidentally, this description of Charlie applies pretty much identically to a character on another CBS sitcom: a show with lower, but still respectable, ratings, and a much greater critical cachet; a breakout character arguably responsible for much of the show’s popularity, and beloved enough to have ‘written’ two books.

Both are womanizing, misogynistic assholes. Why do we interneterati hate Two And A Half Men’s Charlie Harper but love How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson?

I can think of at least three reasons.

First, the context of the show. People who talk about television on the internet tend to consider How I Met Your Mother a good show. At its best, it does something novel with the three-camera sitcom format, utilizing its flashback structure to tell stories in unusual ways and to build a world of consistent detail – guaranteed to appeal to an internet culture that delights in scrutiny of a show’s mythology. Even Two And A Half Men’s most ardent apologists can’t argue that it tries to do anything new, either in its comedy or in its situation.

Second, the context of the character. Barney is a supporting character on How I Met Your Mother. Protagonist Ted is sometimes derided as boring, but he grounds the show in a fundamentally decent and relatable character, which allows Barney to be totally outrageous: as with Zaphod Beeblebrox, you want to have a drink with him – you don’t want to be him. Charlie, however, is the protagonist on Two And A Half Men, and so the viewer can only enter the show’s world on his terms. If you find his terms unappealing, you’ll likely not enjoy the show. (It doesn’t help the misogyny charge that the primary ensemble on Two And A Half Men comprises, well, two and a half men, whereas the How I Met Your Mother ensemble includes two women.)

Third, and most significantly, the relationship between the character and his actor. Neil Patrick Harris’s turn as a womanizing jerk was initially funny because it essentially reprised his performance as a fictionalized version of himself in the Harold & Kumar movies (where, in turn, it was funny because it was a spoof of the Former Child Star stereotype); since November 2006, it’s been funny because we know that he is a monogamous gay man, and now a father of two. The way Barney objectifies and uses women is funny because it bears no relation to reality – the joke is “Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris”. Charlie Sheen, on the other hand, really is a womanizing, wife-beating, alcoholic drug addict. That’s hard to laugh at.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Yes, this little blog has been looked at 1,000 times in its six short months of existence! Okay, in the vast blogosphere, that's not much, but it means a lot to me. Thank you to my lovely readers, especially Sam. You are heroes for reading my ramblings. As a reward, here is a cute puppy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day for Single People

[Cross-posted at Newsgrape.]

Tonight, I’m staying in.

I will fix myself a drink, watch a cheesy movie (preferably involving an improbable sea beastie transformed by irresponsible scientists into an unstoppable killing machine), and try really hard not to think about the fact that I am doing something really inane on quite possibly the most depressing holiday of the year.

I speak, of course, of Birthday Eve.

Those of you who weren’t born on February 15th (n.b. there’s still plenty of time to send me an Amazon voucher) may know this holiday by its more common name of Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad holiday.

“But Anna,” you’re saying smugly (yes, you in the relationship over there), “you’re just bitter because, out of the 22 Valentine’s Days you have now been alive for, you were only in a relationship for one of them, and that day you had tonsillitis and you had to go to Knightsbridge to teach Latin grammar to a poor little rich kid and after that the only thing you were capable of doing was crawling home to bed to drink Lemsip, watch 30 Rock, and feel sorry for yourself.”

Well, yes. Exactly. He was the classic poor little rich kid: you could tell he had every awesome toy and gadget going, but he’d have given it all up to know that his parents truly loved him. And of course I’m bitter because I’m single. That’s the entire point of V-Day: to make single people feel crappy. It’s not enough that people in relationships, you know, have relationships – they also get an entire day to celebrate the fact that they have all the perks of being in a relationship (PDAs, tax breaks, someone to go to zombie walks with) and we don’t.

There’s no escaping it. Want to hit the bars and drink away the loneliness? Canoodling couples and treacly love ballads abound. Want to look at pictures and videos of cute baby animals? Both the Google doodle and the YouTube logo are swaddled in hearts. Realistically, the only thing you can do is embrace it. Embrace the fact that today is all about making you feel bad, and celebrate it as such. Feel crappy on your own terms, not on those of some cynical manufactured Hallmark holiday.

For me, this means Birthday Eve. Today I am feeling crappy because an awful lot of very rich, very famous, and in some cases even very talented celebrities are quite a bit younger than I am. Also because I have to go to the doctor this week for new acne meds, and having acne at my age just feels like insult upon injury. Also because I am wasting my last day of being 21 on finding out what the Google doodle is and deciding which creature feature to watch.

You get the general idea. If you don’t have anything as obviously and immediately disheartening as Birthday Eve to celebrate today, never fear – I have some suggestions.

Job Celebration Day

For the unemployed: a day to reflect on how great employment is. People with jobs have enough money to pay the rent, and they have a reason to put pants on in the morning, and they never have to watch Jeremy Kyle. The only thing they lack is a holiday to make them feel superior to people without jobs.

Male Privilege Day

For women: a day to enumerate all the ways you have been disadvantaged through being female. Make a list of every instance of street harassment, every time somebody told you (implicitly or explicitly) that you can’t do one thing or you must do another thing because you’re a woman, every time you didn’t speak out against a sexist joke or remark that made you uncomfortable because you wanted to fit in or needed your boss to like you. Now think about how men don’t have to deal with any of that. Being a man sure is great!

White Privilege Day

For people of color: a day to enumerate all the ways you have been disadvantaged through not being white. Much as above. Being white is the best!!

Batman Day

Let’s face it: you’re not fooling anyone. Everyone knows you’re not Batman, and pretending you might be is getting a little embarrassing. Set your ambitions a little lower: why don’t you go get some gin and pass out in front of Sharktopus?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

For Donald

Somewhere in the distance, a bell tolls in the night:
the hollow clang of one a.m. defeating this endeavour,
reminding me of what I am and giving me forever
awareness of the hollow sentiment in what I write.

A pebble dropped in water starts a rippling effect
that touches shores undreamed of by the little sinking stone;
and, though it’s a truism, let the cliché still be known:
more often than you think, lives intersect.

Have peace; and if you feel my lamentations take
too grandiose a form, I beg indulgence, and more:
don’t judge me too harshly for being a shore
awash in the stone’s ever rippling wake.

As certain as the sunset and the turning tide
I know we all meet again on the other side.