Saturday, July 31, 2010

Henry VIII, a Review

So much promise, so much wrong.

Back in 2005, when the Famille Evil went to England for the first time, one of the first things we did (after overcoming jet lag) was tour the Tower of London.

Yeah, so do everybody. I know. Shut up.

One of the first things the Yeoman Warder said on the tour was that "Henry VIII was the most despotic and tyrannical of English kings." And I was startled, because that was not the image that I had of the man.

Sure, he'd married a bunch of times, and cut off a head or two, but---Tudor England! The English Renaissance! The flowering of music and poetry and Protestantism! Finally the end of civil war, and a king whose first job was not to don armor and lead troops, but to write music and woo women and travel from palace to palace in a peaceful land, right?

Well, partially true, as all things are, but also Henry had a lot more people beheaded than I had realized, and the worst of it was how many of them were the people who had served him closely for years. A man who observed the letter of the legal process but bullied it to get his way. A man who would be interesting to see played by Ray Winstone.

And to be sure, we get a thug of a king. A man whose outsized desires and will simply flatten anyone who gets in his way. There is some charm, and in the early years he's rather attractive and you can see his charisma. He's terribly short of elegance or subtlety, things that the real Henry VIII is said to have had, but you can certainly find him appealing.

Coupled with Helena Bonham Carter, who acts the hell out of the role of Anne Boleyn, and you can see the greatness and the disaster of that marriage. Bonham Carter's Boleyn is fiery, whip smart, sensual and challenging. Why wouldn't a competitor like Henry insist on conquering her?

It is here, however, that the series takes its fatal wrong turn: Henry decides to get rid of Anne when she doesn't give him a son--but he starts skulking around outside the chamber doors to listen to the "trial" and to hear the verdict that was entirely pre-determined. And then. . .he cries. He cries! He actually stands in an empty hallway, half in shadows behind a column (as if THAT was ever going to happen--the man was positively surrounded by people at all times) and cries!

Oh boo bloody hoo, you jerk! YOU'RE the one who made the decision to throw her to the wolves. If you loved her so damn much, then you didn't have to do that. Instead, it becomes this pathetic pity party he throws for himself--the woman he loved is going to die and he did it and he didn't have to but blah blah blah whineycakes. Shut up.

It doesn't make the character complex, or more likeable, or anything, actually. It just makes him self-pitying and delusional. The rest of the series continues to fall down the melodramatic rabbit hole, to the point of being unwatchable. A real low point is his discovery that his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, is unfaithful. His advisor, Thomas Cranmer, can't bring himself to actually tell the king to his face, so he leaves a note on the prie dieu for Henry to find while at prayer. (He remains skulking behind a column to watch that Henry actually reads the note--a nasty reminder of the earlier scene.) Ah, but Henry does him one better--he reads the note, crumples it up in his fist and raises his hand to the sky while bellowing "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!"

Ah, melodramatic posturing. It cracks me up every time.

Because of course it's silly. It's ridiculously silly. It's like bad opera, with him on his knees, his fist raised to heaven, shouting his denial to an unhearing god. . .except not that believable. At this point, my sympathies are all with Katherine Howard, played by Emily Blunt who is far too intelligent and far too good an actress to be saddled with this terrible role.

Of course there is no way to cram the entirely of Henry's reign into a mere four hours of screen time, and the focus on the six wives is a handy way to structure his life. I'm not even going to object to the various historical errors. What I object to is the cheap and cliched picture of the man that is presented here. The series opens with Henry at his father's deathbed, being told the most important thing for him to do as a king is to have a son. That vow to his dying father is then the presented as the most important thing for him to do, which has to be ridiculous--he made a vow to his father, but what about all the vows (coronation vow, marriage vows, etc.) he makes to God? What about his obligation to his own soul? Those are issues that would have been important to Henry, and which were thrown into question in his quest for a divorce from his first wife, his allegation that Anne Boleyn was a witch, and on and on.

But no--for the purposes of this mini-series, Henry has only one vow he needs to fulfill, and all the attendant chaos and death that attends his single-minded quest to have a son is just to be seen as hardships he has to face. It's too bad Anne Boleyn was beheaded, but the real sadness is that her death was uncomfortable for Henry, who had no choice, because he had to fulfill his promise to his dad.

Not buying it. Not liking it. Not recommending it.

Friday, July 09, 2010

My Darklyng, or Journalism Obviously Does Not Pay

It's summer, you're looking to change things up a bit. Journalism is taking a big ole hit, and you need something to freshen up the dreary news thing. So, take a look around--what's hot these days? Vampires! YA fiction about vampires! Moody and beautiful YA vampires who don't actually attack anybody and who hang around directionless and personality-free high school girls!

But--seriously? My Darkling is what you give us?

I cannot begin to tell you how badly written this is. Truly bad. It makes Stephanie Meyer's books look like Nobel Prize-winning material. It makes your middle-schooler's posts to look like a collaboration between Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. It makes the back of your breakfast cereal box read like Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Don't just take my word for it, let's have a sample from the first chapter. Our Heroine, teen Natalie, is obsessed with a fictional series of vampire novels written by a fictional author named Fiona St. Clair. For some reason, there is an open casting call for models to come audition to "play" the characters on the book covers. Natalie has slipped away from her normal suburban New Jersey life to come to the audition in Manhattan, which is taking place in room 701:

Natalie caught her breath: 7 was the second digit in 17, which was the magic number that unlocked some of the darkest mysteries in Fiona St. Claire's universe. Was it just an eerie coincidence that the casting was taking place in room 701—17 backward, with a 0 between the numerals?

Seriously? I mean, SERIOUSLY? If the call had taken place in room 908, you could add the 9 and the 8 together and even add the 0 and get 17! Or, room 435, where if you multiply the 4 and the 3 and then add the 5, you get 17! Or, room 8, which is what you get if you add the 1 and the 7! Just think how many "eerie coincidences" you could possibly have in any given building. Especially if you take the zip code the building is in and divide it by the area code, subtract the number of floors in the building, and add in the subway fare. . . .

My Darklyng is posted every Friday, and as of today, there are some 18 chapters. (Is it just an eerie coincidence that if you subtract the 1 from the 8 you get the second digit of 17?) Slate's introduction to it called it a "serialized vampire novel" and "a juicy summer read." So far, there are no vampires, and the thrills seem to consist of wondering if Natalie's mother will find out that Natalie took the train into the city without permission. My God! The nail-biting suspense of it all!

So, the high concept of this serialized novel (are they writing as they go? Surely something this bad is just whipped off late on Thursday night in time for posting on Friday) is the parallel social media links. Several of the characters have Facebook pages and/or Twitter accounts so you can follow what happens in "real time." You know, in case you don't have enough real people to follow, now you can follow two-dimensional fictional people as well.

Also, the story is "illustrated" with photos that purport to be of the characters and their surroundings. I'm not convinced that this is all that new or worthwhile, but if you are going to do this, shouldn't the photos actually look like what is described in the story?

For example, take this photo from Chapter 3--supposedly of the house where Natalie lives with her mother and step-father:

I'm not sure what you would call this architectural style. Italianate Queen Anne, maybe, or Cape Cod Second Empire, or even Collegiate Gothic, maybe--or just a hot mess of styles kluged together. What you would NOT call it is a "rambling ranch-style house at 65 Maple Crest Lane."

This is what a "ranch house" actually looks like:

Notice the fact that a ranch house is only ONE STORY TALL. Notice the fact that it is long and even--dare one say it--rather "rambling." Notice how a "rambling ranch house" is NOT three stories tall with a tower on one end.

I mean, geez, people! If you are going to specify the architecture and post a completely different type of picture on the SAME DAMN PAGE--why should I even click through to your Facebook and Twitter feeds? Because I'm sure the same attention to detail you spent on the ACTUAL BOOK PAGE is going to be higher than on the ancillary sites.

If you do click though, you get very little related to the plot of the book, and a lot of random internet crap. Remember the "Leave Britney Alone" video from a few years back? Well "Natalie" just posted it, because that's how you stay ahead of the internet.

In the end, this is not only badly written, but it's apparently failing to generate much interest on Slate. As of today, there are a total of 8 comments--cumulative from the six weeks of posted chapters. OMG--is that another eerie coincidence? Because 8 can be broken down to 1 plus 7. . . .

So, go ahead, see if you can stand to read this. If you can read all 18 chapters, I have a book I'll sell you--it's entirely composed of the subject lines of emails from my spam folder.

In Which I Contemplate Changing the Name of This Blog

In which I only sort of contemplate changing the name of this blog. Because everything I'm seeing on the internet today is triggering a "Are You SERIOUS" reaction. So maybe I should just have a blog where I post the things that irritate me, or make me wonder whether there is Stupid Juice in everybody's triple-shot-mega-skinny-latte. Or juice-box, if you're not a coffee drinker.

Because while a Mistress of All Evil would obviously concoct some drippingly acidic potion that slimes greenly over the edges of a bubbling cauldron, that's just too much effort for the lameness that has presented itself from the internet today. I mean, do Diane Krueger's hideous shoes (terrible as they are) really merit using up the last of the eye of newt?

Photo credit: from Photobucket via here.

This is merely the worst of the recent trend in platform soles making an unfortunate comeback. I mean, we have photographic evidence of the 1970s--did we learn nothing? I guess it's true--those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. And boy, when it comes to platform soles, do I mean doomed.

I like Diane Kruger--I really do. She's lovely, she's ridiculously normal in the National Treasure movies, and she's never done anything to me personally. So why did she voluntarily put on these shoes. There is no way white shoes with thick soles will ever look like anything but Nurse Shoes/Old Lady Nursing Home shoes. Sure, she tried to make them look like sandals, what with the straps and all, but nope. Doesn't work. Just doesn't. They make her legs (fabulous movie-star legs that they are) look like sticks stuck into marshmallows. Hmmmmm, marshmallows. Suddenly I'm thinking about s'mores. And I hate s'mores.

Moving on., I'm talking to you next.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

On the Nature of Man

Met my parents at a trendy restaurant to celebrate JoMama's birthday. This is a restaurant famous for its tea, and as you might expect, there is a line for the restrooms. In a bad move, the restaurant has only two bathrooms--not rooms with stalls, but single person-type almost-like-the-one-back-home type bathrooms.

Somebody came up with a way to make the best of a bad situation, or perhaps they just bowed to the inevitable, and rather than designating one room to each gender, they are labeled for both. This means that about 85% of the time, they are ladies' rooms. There are no urinals--I told you there were almost like the one you have at home. And so you share, just like you do at home.

So this afternoon, I ended up using the one after a guy. This was unusual, as there were four women in line waiting, and probably only about 2 male customers in the whole place. Nevertheless, I was the woman who got to use the bathroom after the man did.


It happened.

Do you even have to ask?

Of course you don't.

Because he did.

He left the seat up.

*Disclaimer: Capt. Sweetie never ever ever ever EVER leaves the seat up, because he is a civilized person, and everybody in our household puts the WHOLE DAMN LID DOWN every single time. Because really? Who wants to look at a toilet bowl anyway.