Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Being Human" means making big mistakes, over and over

The British supernatural dramedy "Being Human" gets a lot of mileage from the irony that its protagonists -- a werewolf, vampire, and ghost, seemingly primed to be part of a corny Halloween dad joke -- struggle at least as much with the human condition after becoming something other than human as they did before. In the second season, George, the werewolf, makes some particularly hard-to-watch mistakes, including rebounding from a touching, heartbreaking relationship with Nina, whom he accidentally turns into a werewolf, to a pro forma affair with a single mom whose young daughter is, we sense, creepily aware that George isn't what he seems.

Compared with Mitchell's transformation from kinder, gentler "on the wagon" vampire to merciless seeker of vengeance, and Annie's understandable curiosity about whether the priest and scientist who offer a supposed cure for lycanthropy might be able to help her, too, George is the main character I most want to shake by the shoulders until he sees reason. But true love will mess with your head, and breakups are tougher to shake off when one of you turned the other into a wolf-human hybrid.

"Being Human" mines from the horror genre some bloodletting and some exquisite suspense (observe the scene in which priest and scientist experiment on Nina, still a likable character, and ultimately stop just short of killing her in the process). I think it works best not as a melancholy friends-in-a-flat sitcom, but rather as a meditation on personal conscience and how we slip in and out of living up to our own moral standards. And, like most other stories of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, it's a tale of not fitting into society at large, and trying to come to terms with that somehow.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The rest of "The Monster"

So, between work, baby/family time, and sleep, I finally finished watching "The Monster." Zoe Kazan and her young co-star, future Anne of Green Gables Ella Ballentine, really do act the holy heck out of this movie. And for me their acting really elevates what might otherwise be a very routine exercise in genre tropes. (Admittedly, the film includes one age-old cliche that caused me to do an internal facepalm and say, aloud, to no one in particular, "C'mon!") Reviewers have noted that the movie isn't as profound as writer-director Bryan Bertino seems to want it to be, and I think that's accurate. However, it's much less shallow than it could have been.

Fortifying the standard monster-movie beats is the wrenching relationship between Kazan's Kathy and her young daughter, Lizzy, played by Ballentine. Critics have rightly noted that the title could refer just as easily to Kathy, who is by turns abusive and neglectful toward Lizzy. However, as I noted in my last post, it's really a triple entendre: monster, mother, and addiction. What makes "The Monster" a tragedy, and truly one of the saddest horror movies I've seen, is Kathy's fervent, almost palpable regret about all the emotional and psychological crud her behavior has heaped on Lizzy.

I don't leave this film thinking Kathy doesn't love Lizzy, or Lizzy doesn't love Kathy. I do come away with great sadness -- that their relationship was so broken, and that it took such extreme circumstances to move them both toward healing.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What makes horror matter

I'm only about a half-hour in, but, thus far, Bryan Bertino's "The Monster" has many of the qualities I look for in horror: real character development, strong acting, an emotional connection to one or more characters (hence: emotional stakes for what comes later), and a gradual (but not slow) pace that effectively builds suspense. Zoe Kazan, who made a lasting impression in 2009's "The Exploding Girl," has made a graceful transition from indie ingénue to screenwriter (2012's "Ruby Sparks") and careful selector of projects. Her Kathy, an alcoholic single mom whose irresponsibility puts her daughter in the position of having to parent her, is broken enough to evoke pathos but not so broken as to alienate us completely.

A scene in that first half-hour in which Kathy fights to resist the magnetic pull of alcohol, after we see a message her daughter has scrawled on the kitchen whiteboard ("You can do it, Mom!"), and then succumbs, provides an emotional oomph that will likely make the bumps-in-the-night to come a lot more meaningful than they otherwise would have been. (The scene concludes with Kathy, having been sick, lying on the bathroom floor. Her daughter finds her and, instead of angrily walking away or bursting into tears, sweetly lies down beside her, spooning her.) Once I'm done with this one, I'll try to finish this review.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A return to Red Blue Green

It's been years -- more than five years, to be exact -- but I'm trying to coax myself back into blogging. I love writing for Spokane Faith and Values, but not every subject I want to write about fits into FAVS' (admittedly broad) thematic framework. I'm easing myself in by simply reposting a response I had to a FAVS article, but my goal is to create original content now and again to revive this long-neglected blog. I won't be able to provide the kind of frequent pop culture coverage I did back in Seattle, by virtue of having a baby, but maybe Red Blue Green can become part daddy blog, part indie horror appreciation website. A fella can dream, right?

 Anyway, here's the link to the FAVS article in question, "My class needs to be a safe space," by EWU professor Chadron Hazelbaker. And here's my response:
I attended Oberlin College, 1997-2001, and the concept of safe space was a big deal there, perhaps well before most of the culture had heard of it or knew what it was. Baldwin House, one of the on-campus program houses, was a safe space for women; men weren't allowed in certain parts of the building unaccompanied. The house did feminist programs and events, but it was also a place for sexual assault survivors to feel relatively safe -- probably safer than in some random dorm or off-campus house. Afrikan Heritage House, as I recall, included a lounge that white people weren't supposed to walk through -- unaccompanied, or maybe at all. And of course this was controversial in some circles. 
I think white people (and men, especially cisgender, heterosexual men) often have a hard time understanding the value of space in which one can discuss one's experiences of oppression without members of the oppressive group present. That doesn't mean all men or all white people are doing oppressive things 24/7. It just means that it can be important to have a safe space to process difficult experiences and work on building one's identity as a minority of whatever kind. 
I can see why this concept is easy to ridicule, but I also saw its usefulness and power at Oberlin, so I'm loath to endure the endless mockery -- such as the conservative radio host on ACN (106.5 FM locally) who seems to find it terrifically entertaining to make fun of college students who played with kittens and colored after the election. Sure, you could accuse these young adults of regression, but as a country that deals poorly with emotional expression, maybe it's more helpful to consider why someone might need a bit of TLC following the election of a man who bragged about sexual assault, dismissed it as "locker room talk," and won the presidency.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Clooney, Obama, and political disappointment

Recently on Facebook I reposted this (click to enlarge it):

My friend Rob responded by posting the video that follows. His opinion: "None of that outweighs this."

Which started a lengthy discussion. My opening salvo:
I think the thing for me is that I'm not activist-y enough. I was friends with someone for a while who believed in the radical transformation of society, government, etc. because things were/are too broken to salvage, so we need a whole new plan. She also believed that the breakdown of capitalism and social chaos were nigh. Capitalism has looked especially awful in the last few years, but I wonder if it's really going to fall apart in the U.S. and yield to some new age of more enlightened social and economic structure. Inertia is a bitch.

All of which is to say, every president does terrible things. The comedian Bill Hicks once said that when someone is elected president, these shadowy figures take him (or eventually her) into a dark room and show him/her a version of JFK's assassination that no one's ever seen before -- the implication being that it was an inside job. The point being: Stray too far from a certain prescribed path, and you're toast.

I take this to mean that there's a limit to how much good a president can accomplish. Obama has made many compromises, as he kind of indicated he would by positioning himself as a moderate/centrist who would try to change the highly polarized nature of politics in D.C. Well, the GOP has never been more knee-jerk in its opposition to a Democratic president, as far as I know.

I'm not assigning all the blame for Obama's missteps to Republicans. I'm just saying that every president makes major "mistakes" that can either be seen as lapses in judgment or conscious betrayals of previously stated ideals. Maybe my attitude, that expecting a lot of consistent action powered by solid integrity, is expecting too much from a president reflects jadedness or laziness on my part. But maybe the position of president has enough inherent limits that there will always be great disappointments. (Clinton signed the DOMA, right? And he's supposedly one of the best presidents in recent memory.)

I think it's good to know what Obama's doing that we liberals consider bad. Clooney, however, seems to be saying that he's also accomplished good things, and if we think he'd be better than Romney for the next four years, we'd better emphasize those. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater might not be the best approach to presidential politics, you know? They're all gonna disappoint. But they're not all George W. Bush. The lesser-of-two-evils concept doesn't preclude actually going ahead, holding one's nose, and CHOOSING the lesser of two evils.
Rob came back with:
If what Senator Carl Levin says is true, Obama didn't compromise by moving to the right more than he wanted to, HE pressured congress to move to the right. Language excluding American citizens from indefinite detention was in the version of the bill that left committee, until Obama insisted that it be re-inserted.
Rob, do you think the next step is writing letters to Obama, or voting for a third-party candidate in 2012? Or some other action? The commentator says that if Bush had put forward a similar bill, "the left would have been in a rage." But what would that rage have resulted in? Our "rage" over Bush got Obama elected. Now it's fueling Occupy. I guess I hear guys like this get worked up and wonder what we should or can actually do. He's so angry. I dunno. I don't feel as much as he does. Al Franken voted for this bill, too, huh? Is everyone awful?
When conservatives during Clinton were frustrated that the Republican party didn't reflect their values, they didn't write letters to the Dole campaign, nor did they vote for Pat Buchanan. Instead, they got involved with the Republican party at the local level, got their values into the party platform, got their candidates on the ballots, and eventually took over the party and the country. They got G.W. Bush into office and turned the Democratic party so far to the right, they are nearly indistinguishable. (Compared to ending due process for all Americans, ending DADT is "throwing us a bone".)

We need to do the same.

My local Democratic party (36th Legislative District) holds its next meeting on January 18th at 7 pm. The meeting is open to the public. It's too late to do anything for this election cycle, but I intend to have a true progressive as the Democratic nominee in 2016.
And so on. I know reposting Facebook writing constitutes lazy blogging, but sometimes the informality of Facebook is more conducive to this type of "thinking out loud" writing. In other words, I wouldn't have written a blog post to this effect on my own, but the Clooney quote and Rob's reply inspired me to produce a lot of words, quite unexpectedly. In that way, Facebook beats blogging. I think one of the reasons I blog less these days is that I never developed a big enough readership to produce a regular flow of comments. And without dialogue, blogging can start to feel like talking to yourself in a deserted building. Whereas Facebook is like a crowded subway car. My last comment in this thread:
Some people think big picture, long term. I guess I don't have grand visions for a nearish future that's radically different from the present. There are exceptions, but social and political shifts tend to be gradual. Obama's election shifted things a bit in terms of our country's respectability in the eyes of the world. Healthcare reform, as meager as it turned out to be compared to what it could have been, put America's deeply troubled healthcare system in the spotlight, and Occupy is ensuring that it remains part of the national conversation.

Repealing DADT may be "throwing us a bone" in a sense, but I think a lot of gays and lesbians who are or have been in the military appreciate that it's more than a symbolic gesture -- it's a change in how the military does business. My upbringing led me to believe that not every positive change has to be really big to matter.

I think about this when I think of how movies, TV, etc. depict LGBT people. "Philadelphia," the '90s movie with Tom Hanks as a gay lawyer with AIDS, gets flak today for how chastely it depicted Hanks' relationship with Antonio Banderas, and for invoking the Gay Protagonist As Tragic AIDS Victim, a tired trope. But a movie that showed a same-sex relationship as healthy, happy, and strong, with major movie stars (Denzel Washington was also in it), from a big-name director (Jonathan Demme, who had won as Oscar for "Silence of the Lambs") and with significant studio money behind it? Holy cow, back then that was significant.

Similarly, "Transamerica" wasn't the radically transformative film that every trans activist was dreaming of, but it wouldn't have been made (with Felicity Huffman, anyway) in the early to mid-'90s. Progress happens gradually. By the time a "Brokeback Mountain" is released, the social, cultural, and political forces for good have advanced considerably on the ground.

I get that Obama's being the first African-American president is cold comfort when (some of) his policies seem terrible. But I still remember looking at the paper the morning after Election Night in 2008, seeing the Obamas on the front page, and thinking: "Wow. It wasn't just a dream. This really happened!" Eventually, hopefully, electing a president who isn't male, white, straight, wealthy, and/or Christian won't be such a big deal. But I think that future is a ways off.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lana Del Rey has something important to tell you

I first heard this on NPR's All Songs Considered. Now it's come back to really haunt me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

An education

Fall quarter officially ends tomorrow, but I've finished all the papers and tests. Now I have time to watch Hulu and reflect on the last few months. I moved to Spokane on Sept. 1, and I've settled in well, all things considered. Sure, the construction next door has literally shaken my apartment building, but all in all this is the quietest place I've ever lived. That's a true blessing for someone who greatly values quiet, as I do.

I've gotten to know Spokane a bit since moving here, and I've found that the horror stories you hear from Seattleites who have never been here aren't accurate. In fact, they're about as true as the outdated, stereotypical impressions of Seattle that you sometimes hear from Midwesterners or East Coast residents. Seattle isn't a forest of grunge and plaid, and Spokane isn't a smoking hole in the ground that smells like meth. Crime isn't rampant here. I feel as safe in Browne's Addition as I did in Ravenna, and the neighborhood is probably safer than Seattle's Capitol Hill. I live across the street from a gastropub and a Tully's, and a few blocks from a lovely park, a grocery, and a yoga studio. This place is just as comfortable for me as Seattle was, and the people here are friendlier.

Wherever I move after this, I want it to be a place where strangers acknowledge each other. Seattle is full of smart, literate people, but it's not friendly enough for me. Too many iPads and iPhones, too much personal space. Spokane's combination of urban pleasures (art cinema, farmers market, co-op grocery, gorgeously landscaped parks) and small-town charm is pretty winning. Bellingham would have been great, but Spokane has everything I need at a lower cost of living.

Grad school is a little different from how I pictured it, because I was picturing a highly academic program, like film studies or Spanish literature. EWU's applied psych program is just that: It emphasizes the application of skills, not tremendous intellectual rigor. Self-reflection matters as much as, if not more than, research papers, although next year there's a hefty one to write. The program's goal is to make us examine ourselves while learning the techniques and attitudes we need to help others. It's a program that gives back what you put into it.

This seems like an apt introduction to the counseling profession, since being active in the field -- going to conferences, networking, finding ways to learn on an ongoing basis -- is clearly the key to a successful, fulfilling career. I like structure, especially the kind that's imposed from outside. I'll need to get better at structuring my daily life, not just my academic work, in order to realize my goal of having a private practice. I'll also need to keep improving my financial skills. I currently create a budget for each month, and I tend to follow those plans pretty well. But responsible planning and investment go beyond that basic step, and I know it.

The support I receive is humbling. Many of my classmates have to work much harder, and manage much more, than I do. They have spouses or families, and some work multiple jobs. I'm learning to respect people whose political and spiritual views are different from mine. If I'd attended Western, I would likely have been among a more liberal, less devoutly Christian crowd. That would have been a comfort zone, which I'm not sure is what best serves a master's-level counseling student. Spokane is more working class, religious, and Republican than anywhere I've lived. Better to experience this part of American reality than to remain in a liberal bubble. I can always visit Seattle, and I can move to a big city after graduation. For now, being in a place where the political spectrum is wider, and the things I'm used to taking for granted aren't necessarily true, may be just the education I need.