Archive for May, 2012

First Position

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Every once in a while, I need a passionate-kids-competing-in-something-meaningful movie to give me a Happy Crying Jag. This year’s model is First Position, and it’s deelishoose.

Each of the dancers they focus on is eminently lovable, even the girl they (half-heartedly) attempt to cast as a villain, or maybe she does that to herself? Either way: She’s fine. We get why she is the way she is, and we root for her.

And everyone else is so magnificent—so sweet and gritty and passionate and vulnerable, not to mention wildly accomplished—that even the preview, which we saw a couple of weeks ago in Santa Cruz, sent me into the sniffles.

Gorgeous dancing! Lovely kids! Mostly great parents! You gotta go.

Downton Abbey: Season 1

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Yeah, I gobbled it up in a few days. But YOU GUYS.

The phrase that kept coming up for me was “gilded codswallop.” Downton Abbey is a soap opera dressed as a period drama, with all of the deeply disappointing aesthetic defects that accompany the form: stilted dialogue, condescending overstatement, unjustified turns of plot, and supporting characters falling squarely (and boringly) on one side of a saintly/evil divide.

AURGH. Because it could have been so good with even a marginally better script.

Allow me to catalogue a few of my frustrations:

1) The idiocy of the Thomas/O’Brien cohort. It’s not just that they’re unrealistically evil, which they are, until O’Brien’s sudden attack of conscience in the finale. It’s that their multiple attempts to undermine Mr. Bates are repeatedly discovered and never punished. How can Carson even begin to imagine that Thomas’s accusations have anything in them, after the first go-round with the “stolen” box? It makes no sense.

2) Plus, a man with Carson’s moral rectitude would never keep on someone as foul as Thomas, who doesn’t have a single redeeming trait. Nothing issues from his mouth but poison.

3) Every single moment of Mary’s dalliance with the Turkish dude was cringe-worthy. It was telegraphed from the moment anybody mentioned a foreign visitor and nauseatingly overplayed with every lingering glance and swollen violin, killing all enjoyment for the viewer. I am not against a romance plot. What I am against is a romance-novel treatment of a romance plot. EW.

4) Elizabeth McGovern. I can’t stand her work in this role. It’s so limpid. And fake-feeling. And flat. Is the accent tripping her up? She’s playing an American who has lived in England for a long time, so it makes sense that she might have picked up some clipped consonants. But she isn’t consistent, so I don’t think it’s intentional. The other actors are giving her so much to work with—they’re fantastic, to a fault—and she’s dropping balls all over the place.

5) Pregnancy and miscarriage plot. I do not allow.

Of course, there are pleasures, too, which is why I kept watching:

1) Maggie Smith. They give her plenty of zingers, which are always delicious. But even when they wrangle her character into untenable positions (hard to imagine that she would ever accept Mary’s dalliance, or be able to discuss it, let alone forgive it) or put silly words in her mouth, she wrestles victory from the script. LOVE.

2) Anna and Mr. Bates. They’re both too angelic for belief, and I’m tiring of his ├╝ber-ethical silent suffering, but . . . yeah, I love them. Even if the writers did force her to confess love for him too soon, and in a weirdly offhanded way. I like what they’ve done with that plot since. Season 2, do not break my heart.

3) Clothes. Hair. Hounds.

4) Mary and Matthew. The writers have almost made up for the Turkish Disaster by allowing this love plot to play out slowly and honestly, and it’s deeply gratifying to see Matthew call Mary on her superficiality. I imagine that in the very end, whenever that may be, these two will end up together; in the interim, the writers will keep busy manufacturing ways to keep them apart.

I haven’t seen Season 2, but a guess: They take Mary to Italy, and she gets briefly embroiled there, only to have to retreat back to Downton in mini-shame. Or horror. Just a guess. DO NOT ANSWER.