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.