Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Downton Abbey

Last night I finished watching the PBS mini-series Downton Abbey. I gobbled it up on Watch Instantly. Actually, I had started it a few months ago, based on a review on Bitch Magazine's blog. But I couldn't get into it then. Recently, someone else recommended it and I got totally sucked in.

It takes place in 1914 on a large English estate. It is a melodrama about the wealthy family that might lose the estate, the cousin who stands to inherit, and the romantic possibility of him marrying their eldest daughter. She, Mary, is somewhat of a haughty bitch with whom it's hard to sympathize. But her acting is strong and nuanced. There is an intense rivalry between her and her middle sister. Also, about half the drama centers around the household staff. It's kind of an Upstairs Downstairs affair (I never saw that though).

Anyway, Downton Abbey has lots of deliciously bitchy characters, some really villainous. And then there were the good guys, who were always dignified and said just the right thing. Crisp, wry, British dialogue. Maggie Smith was just wonderful. Fun to watch in her elegant, haughty curmudgeonliness. Unfortunately, Elizabeth McGovern, as the American wife and head of the house was rather stilted and awkward in her performance...

The second season of the series starts in January. I don't have a TV, so I'm not sure what I will do. I might have to inflict myself on my friend/neighbor. Or else, buy a TV...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Everything Must Go

A few nights ago I watched Everything Must Go, a movie staring Will Ferrell based on a Raymond Carver story. It is about an alcoholic who loses his job on the same day that his wife kicks him out of the house -- changing the locks and leaving all his stuff on the front lawn.

I think you are meant to think that he's the jerk in the situation, because he's an alcoholic fuck up. But really I couldn't get passed how fucked up it was of the wife to leave his stuff out and to cancel his access to their joint account. Leaving him with absolutely nothing to do. You are supposed to get past this and become absorbed in his dilemma and the bittersweet way that he deals with it, living on his lawn, befriending the son of neighborhood home care worker, and the pregnant woman across the street. And I did enjoy most of the movie. The acting was good, the dialogue solid, the plot engaging. But there were a lot of holes and in the end I didn't feel like I had anything invested in any of the characters.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I just devoured Michelle Tea's Valencia. I downloaded it on Kindle last night and couldn't put it down. When I got too tired to stay up, I forced myself to go to sleep, and woke at seven this morning to finish it.

It is so fun, so fast, so sexy. Well written, with lots of wry, smart observations. A charismatic, slightly manic voice telling wonderful stories about youth wildly thriving in a particular era. (It is very nineties -- one thing that hit me was when she writes about calling from pay phones and getting answering machine messages. Gone are those days).

I haven't been able to read anything since I started preparing for my move to San Francisco, and I think it's fitting that this the first book I've read since I got here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Born Innocent

Born Innocent is a made-for-TV movie that I saw when I was a child. It made quite an impression on me, because I'm pretty sure I even went out and read the book. I hadn't seen it since the 70s, and for some reason felt curious about seeing it again. I knew it would be cheesy, but I thought it would be a guilty pleasure kind of thing.

Born Innocent is about a 14 year old runaway who ends up in a state facility for girls. Immediately the culture of the girls is rough and confrontational, and innocent Chris (played by Linda Blair) is not there too long before she is gang raped with the handle of a plunger by a group of her peers. It is a disturbing, awful scene. She is traumatized and ends up telling a teacher at the institution. Though the teacher believes her, the other adult doesn't. In any event, the possibility that girls are gang raping each other is glossed over.

The girls are tough in a ridiculous cartoon way that is hard to relate to, but you sympathize with Chris simply because she has such a youthful, cherubic face. When she gets to go home, it turns out her mother is kind of crazy and her father is violent and they don't want her. Back in the institution, Chris begins to harden. There is a silly food fight, the loss of a baby, and then a seriously violent riot, instigated by Chris bullying the adult supervisor. In the end, despite the efforts of a sympathetic teacher, Chris has lost her innocence and is a tough girl like all the others.

The homophobic undertones and the blase treatment of violence, combined with the adults' wistful, earnest, over-the-top acting was bizarre, and although I did enjoy Born Innocent, I also felt kind of sick while I was watching it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Politics of Injustice

The Politics of Injustice: Crime and Punishment in America by Beckett and Sasson offers a persuasive argument against get-tough-on-crime policies, and puts forth an analysis of mass incarceration that implicates conservative rhetoric, underlying racism, the war on drugs, and private interests in the dire situation we see today.

Although making a clear thesis throughout, the problem of the crime issue is never oversimplified. The relationship between political rhetoric and strategy, mass media, and public opinion is particularly nuanced. In conclusion the authors recommend adopting alternative sentencing, ending the war on drugs, decriminalizing drugs, reinvesting in social programs, and instituting gun control.

This is an excellent book for undergraduates.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau, staring Matt Damon and based on a Philip K. Dick story, is an engaging movie that is a little sillier than it intends to be, and not as gripping or suspenseful as it needs to be.

It has a fascinating premise -- after a chance meeting with an engaging woman, Matt Damon's character walks into his office to find everything frozen and dapper men in hats, as wells as some in protective gear, doing something sinister to his colleague. It turns out he has seen something he wasn't supposed to see, and had walked into the parallel universe where these slightly sinister, slightly robotic, and extremely rational men make "adjustments" on humans so everything goes according to some plan laid out by the "chairman."

This at one time a conventional, and rather charming, love story at the same time that it is a sci-fi adventure. Matt Damon and the woman are very engaging to watch, but their encounters defy the plan and they must escape being adjusted if they want to be together. There are many surreal twists, where actors go through door after door that opens into surprising and illogical spaces.

The acting is good, and the men in hats are spooky, but ultimately it was kind of a limp movie. A lame debate about fate versus free will is interspersed throughout The Adjustment Bureau, and the ending was both corny and kind of unsatisfying. Also, it wasn't scary enough.