Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review of "Robin Hood"

One of the surprising things about the “tea-bagger revolution,” is that without any of the sort of in-film help kindly proffered in “Life of Brian,” it suddenly becomes much harder to hear of peasant revolts against unfair taxes and instantly hate the surely unjust, greedy lords at work cruelly starving the populace, just to fight primarily vanity-driven, foreign wars. Instead, for at least a moment or two, we wonder if there might in fact have been some justice in the taxing, and some (not starvation driven) insanity in the peasants, and further that if we continue to cheer on those we are directed to cheer for, if we’re not in some way taking in of the same very bad inputs which produced these American misanthropes in the first place.

This isn’t the first time with Ridley Scott, but despite every bit of force motioning us to despise the new king for dismissing the long-serving Earl Marshall, I cheered for the royalty. In this case I specifically cheered -- build ’dem roads! get ’dem taxes! Even if in this film universe the money’s primarily going to wars and not as the king argues, to run the country, and even if the reticent withholding northern lords aren’t withholding from the king because grain isn’t even on hand to supply their own dinner plates, let alone feed their people, but in fact because they horde away their riches in gross portions in the fashion of Friar Tuck and his stored-away barreled conglomeration of honey, I know that the royalty, the government, elsewhere --most everywhere -- has a good point: how do you do anything new with your country when well-positioned people in your own retinue judge all change as lapse of wisdom in pull of impulse and whimsy? Scott didn’t intend this, but when good people are for one, mostly old, and completely frozen in disposition -- in grimace -- and outlook, all his ostensible villains need to do is poke at their stoned faces with the slightest bit of sneer or mockery, have the slightest bit of teasing fun with them, and our sympathies should be theirs.

The film would have us believe that the greatest unearthed treasure here is the revelation that way back in the 12th-century, a man produced a document with implications so revolutionary they might stop us in our tracks, even today, if we allowed ourselves to think on them a bit. But for me it was the young to-be-king’s continuing to sex his french vixen, while his wizened, wrinkled, grandmother, impotently beamed all her supply of wrathful looks upon him. What a treasure! He understood his grandmother as just another of England’s stony looming gargoyles, who scare away with show of eternal judgment but who are born out of fear of life, of stupid ignorance and misunderstanding of anything beyond familiar reach, not lifetimes of accrued wisdom; and showed himself in tune with the slow breaking of routine and duty in favor of mischief, mirth and experimentation that marked the beginning of the English learning from the French and the Italians, which marked the beginning of the roots for the English renaissance!

Intriguingly, Scott doesn’t actually have it in for the French. They are it seems by nature driven to be smartly and ruthlessly conquistatorial and scheming -- it’s just who they are -- and they aren’t so individually self-inflating they can’t readily accept that they might function better as each one of them part of a larger state, and so at worst always have a comprehensive functioning state while England could at any turn disintegrate into a swath of broken, squabbling chiefdoms, and are possessed of an arrogant -- and actually in a way, self-diminishing -- and ultimately limited, but still formidable understanding of human tendencies. They are a formidable opponent; are right to doubt that there is anything actually really existing and worthy when the English are in mood to bash their shields and herald their virtue before them; and they serve as a test as to how well the English are embodying their in-truth potentially superior selves -- as truly uncompromised, noble individuals, obliged to a King but whose castles are their own homes, who when united can repel huge armadas and armies as can any vibrant young body, multitudes of weakness-drawn contagens. Who he has it in for are the English who don’t understand that their way to best form, is not to be seduced by French novelties, things suited really only to those of apparently unadulterated French constitution, but to uncover basic truths concerning their nobility they seem everywhere either prone to forget or cover over, or to twist into worst possible deviant forms. This means remembering / learning to be honest, forthright, brave, unrelenting, and so forth. It means boasting the soul of a stone-mason -- bearing-out truths you’d inscribe on an otherwise unadorned sword: It means life becoming about not an increasing awareness of, and adding of and an appreciation for complexities, but about refusing to add layers, life, story, to sully perfect and simple beginnings.

To say that Scott would have the English, would have us, work against life amounting to a story, to make maturity delightful because it means a constant conversation of previous experience, perspective, with the newly encountered and just understood, is, for the most part, actually fair. His heroes are too often attractive men and woman who ultimately disappoint because they not just accord themselves with but seem trapped in code: they are trapped to be noble because they exist to show up other people’s deficiencies or fallenness, and take vengeance on them for it. But there is enough of another possibility at work in his work that I’ll certainly mention it: and that is, an argument not against change, but in favor of cultivating a state of being that makes you able to enjoy a life of mature enjoyment and development, without diverting oneself onto wayward paths opened up by the pettiest of motivations. You sense amongst his main principles, that is, self-esteem. You do. Robin Longstride is the better man for returning the sword to the family of a deceased good-hearted man, and acting without pretense while returning it. His stay in Nottingham, with Marion and father Loxley, offers what you never believed would have opened up in “Gladiator” had the turn in that movie had been to allow Maximus to return to his family -- namely, a fairly convincing show of amiability, friendship, comfort and good living, you would be hard-pressed not to kill and kill again, if such was necessary, to have some chance of reclaiming or returning to it. But since his characters for the most part seem to stop developing at some point, at exactly the same point, it seems, that they finally learn how to properly comport themselves and become wholly principled, Scott ultimately does not make self-esteem the beginnings of onward journeys, but it’s termination -- the beginning of character stasis. To be noble is to lose self-confliction, but to become a bore -- and just look what that did to the English king’s foxy vixen French wife: Plunge the dagger into yourself, my dear, you’ve surrendered your sizzle and mischief in your giving in to grandma -- don’t allow yourself to live long enough to prove an example of how others similarly vitally sexed can sabotage everything great in them to show off the knowingness and majesty in vastly too long-lived, aged owls.

What Scott does, though, is make character cementation the beginning of their involvement in his movies greatest battles -- and as such there is a sense that they’ve been molded into familiar pieces that will be involved in none the less surprising, you-never-know -- even when at some level, you do know -- military engagements. Chess pieces -- rooks, bishops, knights, pawns, kings -- that can each be downed by strategy or errant happenstance, at any instance. Where bravery and skill we find really does count, but in execution seems so much more subtle, invisible, amongst the multitudes of intentions, one-on-ones, variant goings-on, that even a charging, competent king at the front of the battle seems in need of having his bravery being recounted afterwards -- so that it can be poetically foregrounded -- to seem as glorious as we might have wanted him to be in the instant, and who could be quitted -- and not just killed -- by attendance to something else unusual or at least unexpected but not in fact out of ordinary for the occasion, like a cook experimenting away from his post to crossbow (what turns out to be) a king, or even -- for me at least -- just his bringing up of soup, for a brief time-out for harried, exhausted soldiers, at top of the castle’s turret. For Scott, battles are where we get what we would have hoped to receive in conversations between characters -- where unexpected turns are met with improvisations that show our heroes as heroic for inspired reactions to developments before them, for being able to see the battle as a story they can yet sway into some variant form rather than another. Yes, Robin’s “ask me nicely,” the whole bedchamber sequence with Marion, is an example of wonderful improvisation and discovery through conversation, but it is not Scott’s main fortay or inclination. Instead, heroes are mostly plain and stalwart in conversation -- this shows their minds already know everything they need to know, so every conversation away from the everyday is just a potential lean on them toward the bad -- and villains, those most prone to complicate what we might expect with turns toward some possibility we might not have accounted for. Villains will show that they shouldn’t be killed, because their best-loved cousin is french -- a farceful play, that seems to have swayed his french foe -- or that they shouldn’t accord their self-righteous mothers’ wishes, because though confronted with those wearing-thick plain virtue, they can easily, correctly, but still remarkably show how even while themselves undressed and in seemingly the baldest of compromised positions, they’re actually evidently right in insisting they’re not the ones foremost in bed with those shorn all decency and allegiance to duty.

In battles, everything seems tossed up and kind of random and unpredictable -- in the moment of it, and despite all experience of how these things normally go, still hard to foretell -- and so it is in Scott’s battles where everything that the healthcare-fearing tea-bagger would despise -- the chance for meaningful change and unpredictable, onward growth -- is manifested. The battles are where we still may sense Scott embraced by baby boomers who remember how the 60’s social battles were moved by sufficient expectation for change, that every twist and turn in any particular engagement might just determine exactly how the future would take shape. You could be great and fearless, and yet find yourself suddenly surprised by beginning a battle with two arrows in you that have already doomed you -- as happened to the german warrior in “Kingdom of Heaven” -- that ensures we’ll mostly just see in your perseverance just how good you must have been in the battles that built your reputation. Or in a moment of slight over-extension, be ended after a lifetime of killer-blows to everyone else -- as happened to the muslim knight, again in “Kingdom of Heaven.” You could deliver what we have been given every bit of evidence -- in battles that rain arrows just about everywhere -- to suspect as just as likely as any other possibility, a purely random shot that ends the life of a king. Your efforts may amount to cruel nothing, or make the greatest of differences. And so while I feel I haven’t much more interest in Scott, for I loathe his foreclosing of character development, his making of potentially interesting people into dull chess pieces, his most boring, dumb, and unmoving solutes to democratic principles, I still see in his work some evidence for understanding living best as being open to unexpected nuances that could lead to grandscale changes, of being open and desiring of life amounting to the surefooted engaging willingly in forays that could have them slip, for the unexpected -- and maybe even -- the better.

Photo stills: CinemaBlend.com (Universal Pictures)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

There is place for growth in leisured paradise: Review of "Letters to Juliet"

It is unbecoming of a lady to marry her steward, and so the pseudo-Italian fiancee, who is expert and fussy-obsessed with all the variant particulars concerning his “estate” -- his newly opened restaurant -- is to be discarded for a gentleman who’s only obligation is to show himself good-looking, vital, and inherently decent and well-mannered -- a proper lord. This is one of the things you understand while watching “Letters to Juliet,” yet another film which must be objected to lest we become unable to see reality.
Our lady, Sophie, has gone to Brown, what has apparently become THE finishing school for ladies in our times, being not so ardent-seeming that it might coarsen you with too professional a sense of purpose, yet still as established and esteemed as any of the more prominent ivyies. If you’ve gone to Brown, you may be the sort who is just not pushy enough to have already scored a career as a major writer at the New Yorker by the time she’s twenty-two, not brutally driven enough to have portfolioed herself into the most obvious upmost echelons, like Harvard or Princeton, but who’s relaxed possession of larger qualities, whose preference for discreteness, anonymity, quiet grace, makes you EXACTLY what lords of commercial society need as near to them as possible to suggest their own timelessness and quality -- certain by divine right, to survive and continue to prosper, if the time's primary henceforth call is for people to define themselves as either sacrifice or to-be-satisfied.
She’s gone where Lady Di might have gone to if she was an American, and her future husband has gone to Oxford -- where all boyish princes who would be Kings must go. If he’d gone to Cambridge, it would have again made him REALLY seem invested in doing something for the country by craft or trade -- which would have lowered and coarsened him -- when it is his loftiness -- his sheer existence -- which most keeps the regression-prone countryside from devolving into dispersions of the-really-quite-insane, gnarly, garish multitudes. Yes, of course, he’s supposed to be a lawyer devoted to helping the weak, which is supposed to sound like the lord turning away from expectation and risking being forgotten about but which by this time we all REALLY know means he’s perfectly orthodox -- perfectly “certain,” and safe, given our newly updated standards concerning how lords are to define themselves.
It isn’t a good thing when being as alive as a sunflower but not a wit more interesting, can’t make you -- an ostensibly ambitious human being -- the subject of some ridicule. And yet this might now just be where we are -- in that too many who can at some level see that these leisured, liberal humanists / gentry, who ostensibly have the time, quietness, and tutored capacity to range greatly and uninterruptedly while in this world, are just beautiful script, lines curling up, down, and on through a plot already known and before them, content to take pleasure in the variances of sensation they can see ahead and know are coming, but still very much to be taken pleasure in, because vividness exists primarily in the rush of what is before you not in the nagging memory of what you once knew, because they are in-mind to give up the reigns to someone else themselves, and want no evidence anywhere extant that makes them feel small, feel guilty, for doing so.
Claire --the grandmother -- could be a problem. Which is why all her genuine gravitas is summoned but drawn to essential vacancy -- her love of her life, who she once loved and never --ostensibly rightly -- learned to lose interest in, is SO MUCH perfect acquisition, perfect object, well-groomed and already, beautifully-told story, that she serves as unmistakable proof in the pudding, as General Colin Powell to George Bush, that what is not actually here in the film, IS actually there, if only you had the capacity to find it.
Photo still: "Letters to Juliet." www.celebritywonder.com

I want one!

The picture never looks fussed-over or flattened — it breathes, as opposed to just looking merely pretty. Pontecorvo approaches the actresses with the same uncalculated respect.

The actors here offer plenty sturdy support for their female counterparts: Bernal’s character is scattered but sympathetic; Egan, deeply unlikable at first, by the end opens himself to the camera in a way you’d never see coming. But the picture really belongs to its two leads. Seyfried gives a wonderfully loose, unstudied performance — nothing she does is forced. And it doesn’t hurt that she has the most gorgeous, enormous eyes in movies today: Not even Disney’s Nine Old Men could have dreamed them up.

[. . .]

Nero makes his entrance here, Lancelot-style, on a white horse. It’s a touch so perfect, so silly-wonderful, that it’s something of a salve after the almost-too-painful moment that comes immediately before. Redgrave is now 73, but it takes zero imagination to see the face of the young Guenevere in this older one. She isn’t merely beautiful; she’s a living assurance that the young people we once were can stay alive inside us, no matter how much we grow and change. (Stephanie Zacharek, “Leading ladies lift lovely ‘Letters to Juliet,’” Movieline, 13 May 2010)

From a guy's perspective, it's not so much the eyes as it is the breasts -- of course the film didn't feel flat: not even Disney's Nine Old Men could have dreamed them up! Egan was too nice: caught in a film where the guy's dragging his gal all about the place is cause for “divorce,” but where "his" driving Daisy everywhere she needs is gentlemanly and appropriate, if he didn't evidence some disgruntlement before the end, slobbering CALIBAN would have climbed that tree, not sweet Percival.

Redgrave is living assurance that true love means a vineyard-owning, warm Italian, with gentle manners: As a grown-up still-15-year-old who's moved on from ponies -- or Tony Stark, in regards to "melons" -- would say –“you just want one.”

- - - - -

Further, I'M a bit disgruntled that this film made losing your mom into a mercilessly effective bargaining-chip -- as if the romancing the self-abnegating knight bit wasn't enough to plot out how your man might be wholly owned.

Link: Leading ladies lift lovely “Letters to Juliet” (Movieline)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Correct thought

One of the less trumpeted features of the Internet is the unprecedented access it provides to really, really bad writing. Of course, awful books have always been with us, but nowadays a specimen of unkempt, puffed-up prose or stumbling, lugubrious verse doesn't even need to make it past an editor or publisher to glide slimily into the awareness of the unsuspecting public.

[. . .]

In the early 20th century, dinner party guests would entertain each other by reciting passages from the alliteration-heavy works of one Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860-1939), regarded by experts as the greatest bad novelist of all time. In Oxford, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and their friends competed to see who could read aloud from Ros' books the longest before cracking up. (Laura Miller, “Bad writing: What is it good for,” Salon, 11 May 2010)

Correct thought

I think if you laugh at prose so that it strips it of authority (what the Moderns did with their Victorian predecessors), so that your own artistic ventures feel more legitimate, it is a sound thing to do. More than this, it is a GOOD thing to do -- as laughter, mockery, is at the service of growth.

If you're laughing at prose without any real authority, then you're not servicing your own growth, rather, you're foreclosing it: as who amongst the legitimate would risk writing anything that would leave themselves open for laughter from their peers? None at all -- and so a culture freezes in its preferred prose, state of mind, and current grammatical correctness. Some time later, after they've crumbled away, a new generation emerges that laughs "their" way on toward unusual things. Or not -- and we're left with successive generations of elites against the mob, complaining of plagiarism, not knowing that IN ESSENCE, that is all they are.

Link: Bad writing: What is it good for?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


In fact, while it's possible that before Hunter started speaking on her own behalf, I might have entertained the notion that she was a slightly dopey lady who fell hard for a bad man who was running for president and got caught in a very unfortunate saga, I now feel quite confident that in fact she is a borderline simpleton, fame-seeking narcissist whose self-interested grab for attention is likely doing further permanent damage to the Edwards family, including her daughter and her siblings. If her appearance on the Oprah show seemed like an unjust setup, then Hunter proved that, every once in a while, someone so amply meets all expectations for awfulness that it's impossible to muster anything other than loathing for them. (Rebecca Traister, Rielle Hunter's undeniable awfulness,” Salon, 29 April 2010)

Good girls get their consolation prize

RE: "I now feel quite confident that in fact she is a borderline simpleton, fame-seeking narcissist whose self-interested grab for attention [. . .]"

Is this the consolation prize -- ripping her, ripping people like her, apart -- for your being a "classic good girl," for there not being any way for you to "alter [your] fundamentally conscientious, perpetually guilt-ridden, grateful-for-a-job sense that [you] should always be working harder than [you] were, and that [you] [were] probably already being overcompensated for whatever [you] [were] doing?"

By punishing her, do you feel even more the good girl, feel good at last being the good girl -- the person you ostensibly regret being forced to become?

@Patrick McEvoy-Halston

Whoah, thank you for reading my work with such attention!

I don't think that my reaction to Hunter's televised revelations about her personal life have any connection to my assessment of my own professional habits. But I'm very flattered that you're such an avid reader.


Rebecca (Rebecca Traiser, response to post)



If you felt the same pressure to be a good girl in your personal life as you admit you did/do in your professional, then it strikes me that what you are doing here would be working to make your compromised state less compromise and more advantage -- it would be working against efforts on your part to free yourself of deeply ingrained "good girl" inclinations -- and that anyone who is at all good, who cares about your future journeys, should point this out.

Since you only feel/felt this pressure in your professional life, then I can understand this particular attack on the "bad girl" not seeming related to your very previous post, where you railed against all that hems women into the good girl mold.

Link: Rielle Hunter's undeniable awfulness


The fact is, we tell women that being good people involves agreeability, cooperation and a little bit of self-sacrifice. In addition to telling them to be polite and deferential, we teach little girls from the beginning that life is going to be hard and involve compromise. This dose of realism is not terrible; it girds us for some hardship along the way. But it also lowers expectations for remuneration and recognition. Despite those who say that women have lately been told that they could "have it all," that promise has, in my experience, always been accompanied by caveats that a) we probably can't, b) if we do, it's going to be incredibly difficult, and c) that if we somehow do manage to achieve any kind of satisfaction or balance, we should be damn grateful. Gratitude, I've found, is not an attitude that results in promotions and raises. (Rebecca Traister, “A nice girl’s guide to getting ahead,” Salon, 26 April 2010)


I think we all need to remember that during the medieval ages, men did their best to become like women, so they might imagine themselves more worthy of claiming love from their mothers -- as Lloyd deMause explains:

Since Christians were bipolar, they were either manic (violent warriors) or depressive (masochistic clerics, martyrs), but in either case they risked “dying for God” their whole lives: “For Your sake we have been killed all of the day.” Martyrs would sometimes castrate themselves “to demonstrate their potency and devotion to God.” In fact, clerics were said to have “become female” when they gave up fighting, because “the male must become female in order to escape the moral dangers of his masculine state.” In fact, Christianity can be seen as a way for males to become more like females—thus priests didn’t get married and wore female dresses—because young boys experienced their mothers as preferring her more passive daughters to her “rough, impudent” sons.

I chased down this quote because I think this is about where we are today: men who do the the things that are supposedly lauded -- show initiative, refuse to kow-tow -- in truth go the Jerry Maguire route, ending up rejected and cloaked in failure, whereas men who try and make themselves women by showing in some fashion that they can be broken by whatever authority-figure they happen to be working for -- are allowed to pass on and on and on, on our current, good girl, A+ route of societal approval.

Male or female, if you grow up these days with truly healthy self-esteem, you'll be too busy dealing with the unleashed sharks to find any of those damned world-oysters you were expecting. Be glad you're still inclined to self-lacerate, Rebecca. Cover's better.

Link: A nice girl's guide to getting ahead

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