Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tori & Dean

My apologies for not updating sooner. Being unemployed is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it gives me more time to write and pitch work, which is fabulous, but on the other hand, some days it gives me the time to watch Tori and Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood on Oxygen.

I was ashamed, at first, to even admit that I watched the show. For those of you who might not know: Tori Spelling is the daughter of Aaron Spelling, creator of 90210 (in which Tori starred as the virginal Donna Martin) and several other successful television shows. Since her father's death, Tori's relationship with her mother has deteriorated, and she has largely retreated into her marriage with Dean McDermont, and into motherhood: they have two kids, Liam (22 months) and Stella (7 months). This is their reality show.

Tori, who is a mediocre actress and a likely anorexic, has never been much of an interest to my passion for all pop culture. The fact that she and Dean were both married to other people when they met, fell in love, and decided to divorce their partners (even though Dean's wife was pregnant at the time) is also not exactly model behavior. But, they have been married for four years, and have two beautiful children.

On the first episode I saw, Tori's best friend, and his boyfriend, the "guncles" annouced their decision to marry sooner rather than later, because they want to adopt a child. They ask Tori and Dean for help with the wedding and to be their recommenders to the adoption agency. Tori is clearly overwhelmed by emotion and tells them that she doesn't know any other couple more suited to be parents, and that she always feels totally confident when she leaves her children with them, and that she couldn't be happier for them.

Dean's also a kind of a babe, and maybe the best husband ever. After the motorbike crash, he feels so guilty for worrying Tori that he sells his bikes, renounces the hobby, and buys her a huge ring. When she gets home, he has a bubblebath, roses and champagne waiting. It's an old school romantic gesture, but the real sacrifice is giving up the hobby because he knows it drives her crazy, and it puts his life in danger. He also flies to New York from Calgary so he can be with Tori on Valentine's Day. And he's constantly telling her what a hot ass she has and how beautiful she is. Did I mention he has her painted on the side of his motorbike and a Tori tattoo? (Yes, I find these sort of things romantic).

With her father dead and her mother estranged, Tori has no other family outside the one she's created with Dean. Her desperation when he leaves to go on vacation, or when he crashes his motorbike, it completely heart-breaking for several reasons. Aside from the clear indicators of co-dependence, it's obvious that Tori and Dean really do love each other, and that their number one priority is their children. That's a beautiful thing.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Kissing Dead Girls

Ladies and Ghouls, I'm pleased to announce my new column on the paranormal appearing monthly on Bookslut, a "Ladies' Night in the X-Files," if you will. The first piece is on Stephenie Meyer's first installation of the Twilight series. I hope you enjoy it, and I'd love to know what you think!

Also: RIP to the King of Pop.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Future of Sci-Fi Cinema

Last month I saw Pontypool, a Canadian zombie film directed by Bruce McDonald, adapted from a book and radio play of the same name. [spoilers abound] When I learned that the virus in this film is transferred from person to person through the English language I was intent on seeing it. What an intelligent, intriguing idea for a horror film.

And it is intriguing! And raises lots of questions about how much one can remember from Psych 101 when we learned about the theories of Noam Chomsky and how our brains process language. In Pontypool, there are only certain words or sounds (phonemes) that can ignite the virus, which causes the host to repeat said sound or word over and over until they become belligerent and apparently thirst for human blood.

How these events are linked remains unclear, and the solution to the problem, which the film's protagonist, a crankily charming radio host named Grant Mazzy eventually figures out, is to literally unlearn the meaning of a word so that the virus cannot take hold, is severely flawed. (Wow, like that last sentence I just wrote)

How does one unlearn the meaning of a word? Is it even possible?

Where the film wins is in its ability to build suspense without showing us the horrific acts themselves. I'm a big fan Hitchcockian elements of suggestion and subtle references through editing, especially with sound. We hardly see any zombies in Pontypool, but they make their presence known. And as representative to the bunch, Georgina Reilly, the actress who plays Laurel Ann, does a pretty incredible job of scaring the pants off everyone in the theater.

Pontypool raises some relevant questions about the way we communicate with each other in the technological age. In this way, it straddles the sci-fi and horror genres. In a world where people hardly even speak over the phone, how much risk, really, is there for a viral event like this to occur? Has technology completely destroyed our language? How do we relate to each other without language? And if we're forced to, can the human race survive without destroying itself?

Moon, a film directed by Duncan Jones, stars Sam Rockwell, one of my favorite off-the-wall actors, which is really the main reason I wanted to see it. Also, one can't help but be reminded of Kubrick's 2001 after watching the trailer. And I think we'd all agree that we're all secretly hoping that someday someone will come out with a sci-fi movie for our generation that can equal the intense emotional and philosophical ramblings of that biblically important film.

Moon is too close to 2001, unfortunately. Kevin Spacey voices a computer module too much like Hal, but not nearly as cool. (He has an emoticon face, for christsakes. Whoever came up with that idea: you lose). But instead of killer computers, [spoiler alert] Moon is the story of clones, created by people, and abused by people. Jones is genius in casting Sam Rockwell, who is perhaps, out of all the cool indie actors one of the most human. In the beginning of the movie, Rockwell is simply Sam Bell, a man working on the moon harvesting resources who gets to go home in three weeks. He misses his wife, and his baby. His accent (which is EERILY similar to those of the Wilson tribe - Owen, Luke), his minature hobby, and his struggling on the treadmill instantly endears him to the audience.

But an accident reveals that there are two Sams on the space station: the original Sam we've come to know and love, and a younger, more virile, hot-headed frat boy Sam, who seems to've appeared out of nowhere. Jones gives us some comic relief in the interaction between the two, which again, is credited to the acting chops of Sam Rockwell. Playing against yourself is not always an easy thing to do, as he points out in this interview with New York magazine.

And smartly, Jones doesn't pit the clones against each other. Instead, being the same person, they can't really hate the other one enough to kill each other. They aren't pod people, after all. In the end, one Sam Bell says to the other, "I know you can't kill anybody because I can't kill anybody." No, in this movie it's the clones versus the humans, and the question we end up with: are clones humans? If so, what are their rights? Moon is a disaster movie in that the technology it presents is entirely possible in the next decade, really, as we've already cloned animals, and stem cell research will finally get its grant with Obama as President. So, if clones are on their way, what do we do with them? And will they be safe? Do we care if they're safe?

Kazuo Ishiguro paints this portrait in a more terrifying way in his novel, Never Let Me Go, which I highly recommend if you haven't read it. But be prepared for your skin to crawl. I had nightmares for weeks. It too is being adapated into a film by the director of One Hour Photo. (Fingers crossed)

While neither film is a total success, they both have a deep reverence to the work of Stanley Kubrick, and signal an intelligent and emotional investigation into the world of 2001, which we've been living in now for a nearly a decade. It's about time that someone at least attempted at a science-fiction movie that would make us all shudder with dread.