strictures and structures

if only we stopped trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time

Month: March, 2017

loudly grunting while working out: a positive review

I like loudly grunting while working out* because it makes me feel powerful. Maybe if you do it, you will feel powerful too.

* Also known as, “warrior noises.”

Beauty and the Beast: a negative review

Spoilers galore.

I had hopes for this. I had read an interview with the director where they stated that the original animated movie was itself a remake of an original story. Very wise. You got me there. You made me even look forward to this.

After I saw it, I said to my friend Oobz, “Lumiere’s face was horrifying.” I think it was just the initial shock of disappointment. I’ve seen a few horror movies, and Lumiere’s face is just charmless. And that sums up how I feel about this movie. It was charmless.

There’s always a risk in porting an animated story to a live-action format. Things that looked plausible enough in animation can look grotesque in live-action. In this live-action remake, the transmogrified servants are mostly trapped in the uncanny valley, except for the feather duster, who only escapes because she has a peacock head, not a human face. And the beast just doesn’t look like a beast you could root for. The original animated beast had big doe eyes and floofy hair. He combined the cuddliness of a dog you wanted to pet and the luxuriant locks of an Herbal Essences model. This time around, he’s a big muscular thug who makes you uncomfortably aware that you’re rooting for the success of an abusive relationship. With bestiality. This weakness of the live-action format especially doesn’t pair well with modern sensibilities about dating.

I’m sure there’s a way to make a good live-action movie with abusive boyfriends and uncomfortable but sexy hints of bestiality, especially if you have involvement from actual French people, but of course no American is ever going to go there.

The sad thing, I think, is that the original animation was very fresh and original, because it dared to embellish the old story so much. This remake is something of a failure to launch–too slavishly devoted to the original to make the most of the change to a live-action format, it reminds me of someone trying to jump a ditch they could easily cross, if only they weren’t so afraid.*

* Though I suppose I’m being harsh, because the other side of the ditch is a sexy French movie with bestiality and abuse, so yes, I can see why you’d shy away.

A Gentleman in Moscow: a negative review

Much as how Trump is a poor man’s idea of a rich man, the titular gentleman of A Gentleman in Moscow is a plebeian’s idea of an aristocrat, and simultaneously, an American’s idea of a Russian.

The premise of the novel is that Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, unlike most of his aristocratic brethren who were either shot to death or forced to flee, is placed under house arrest in a fancy hotel. It conveniently enables the author, Amor Towles, to insulate his character from any of the consequences one might reasonably expect from being a Russian aristocrat during Stalinist Russia, and to slip out nimbly from beneath the burden of any of the research someone with no knowledge of Stalinist Russia might be expected to have to do in order to write a convincing book about Stalinist Russia.

I am ignorant of Russian history and culture. Amusingly enough, that is how I can tell Towles did no research. When someone as placidly ignorant as I am can recognize every single Russian cultural reference made, and can even spot the improperly deployed patronymics, nicknames, and surnames, it is certain that Towles has no more knowledge than I–in fact, given how glaringly bad the Russian names are, I’d wager I even know more. (It also enrages me that Towles thought Bulgakov was a poet. I suffered the whole time I was reading The Master and Margarita, and I can tell you that regardless of his other charms, Bulgakov was no poet.)

I would be able to overlook the lack of Russianness if the book itself weren’t so slight and incoherent. Here is an example of what I mean–at the very beginning of the book, the good count bounces up and down on a bed to gauge the key of the bedsprings, apparently G Major. How charming. Surely, he is someone of significant musical talent. But does his musical ability show up again in the novel? No. Towles wrote that scene as a one-off cheap trick. The book is essentially a long string of these, going nowhere.

Towles also likes to interrupt his narrative with pretentious disquisitions like this: “That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.” This last clause is a lot like saying, “the existence of apples refutes oranges,” or, “red refutes green.”

I do not hate this book because it has no plot and no verisimilitude. I have read books with no plot before, and enjoyed them greatly, and if I could mainline crappy fantasy books, I would. The problem with this book is that it has no vision, beyond a nostalgic admiration for the aristocracy. An admiration so un-American, that I wish there were some committee of subversive literature I could report this book to.

Rent: a positive review, with reservations

Much about “Rent” is timeless. The artistic struggle, the poverty, the need to carpe that diem–they are all classic. And there are some damn good songs. I have taken to howling “aoouuuuut toniiiight” when I’m riding my bike at 2AM.

And yet, “Rent” feels oddly dated to me.The rent is too damn high, but where are the battles between YIMBYs and NIMBYs? And where are the bigots? How are the LGBT folks living such unmolested lives? Especially now that Trump is president. For all its grittiness, “Rent” has aged into something positively innocent.