Monday, November 29, 2010

“The L Word” (Season 1, episode 2: “Let’s Do It,” Showtime)

            Love, lust, life, and, above all else, lesbianism. These are the foundational themes that “The L Word” prides itself on. It’s the lesbian version of “Queer As Folk” (another Showtime drama about gay men) following the lives of a lesbian group of friends with a specific focus on romance and sexuality, filled with pseudo soap-opera complications and a wide variety of personalities. Although this is big step for the lesbian community as a whole, the show is incredibly disappointing.
            The second episode (which might as well be considered the first episode since pilots never seem to accurately represent any show’s potential) contains few intriguing plot elements, and fails to go about the ones that are in an intriguing way. Bette and Tina, a longtime couple trying to have a baby together, employ do-it-yourself at home artificial insemination. Although the sex scene is tasteful, it’s unnecessarily long and feels more like a cheap trick to get more viewers than an expression of the emotional intensity of the act. Alice, a single woman, gets begins the get tangled up with her possibly abusive ex-girlfriend while her friends attempt to talk her out of it with their unconvincing and half-hearted acting skills.
            Beyond the boredom factor, the show successfully exploits lesbian stereotyping. While there are some occasional attempts to reconcile these in the dialogue, they only serve to provide the show with hypocritical undertones. For example, Dana, a professional tennis player, is pining over beautiful Lara, the sous-chef at the club Dana trains at, but doesn’t want to approach Lara until she figures out whether or not Lara is a lesbian. First off, bisexuality isn’t even acknowledged as a possibility. This is not only insulting (especially after they make a point to say that sexuality is fluid), but it also perpetuates the already overbearing sexual dichotomy of gay and straight. Secondly, Dana proceeds to turn to her friends for “gaydar” opinions. High heels are obviously straight while wielding a chopping knife is inherently lesbian? Thanks for the suffocating little boxes, Showtime.
            Fortunately, episode 2 isn’t nearly as socially damaging as the pilot, which leaves hope for the rest of the show. However, women regardless of whether they’re gay, straight, or somewhere in-between should be offended. Lesbians, for one, aren’t novelty items and shouldn’t be objectified or exploited. Women—in fact, people in general—shouldn’t be crammed into looking a certain way or arranging their personalities to fit any societal expectations. Feminine doesn’t equate to straight in the same way that masculine doesn’t equate to gay. Haven’t these false assumptions done enough damage already?
            Either “The L Word” needs to shape up or we need a better show.

Alanis Morissette, “Jagged Little Pill Acoustic” (Maverick, 2005)

            Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” is a beast. First released in June of 1995, this well loved album didn’t take long to become an instant staple in the CD collections of angry women across the globe, particularly in the United States. 10 years later, the pop/rock singer-songwriter released an acoustic version of “Jagged Little Pill” that is, perhaps, more daring than the original.
            What makes a great album great is honesty—something that Morissette has managed to stay faithful to despite countless accusations that she’s just an angst-ridden bitch. The acoustic version, however, takes the sentiment of the lyrics a few steps further. Raw, slightly down-tempo versions of her songs allow her to clear away all the clutter of the standard pop album and truly showcase the emotional quality of her words in every single track. Additionally, the beauty of her quirky Canadian voice is allowed to dance around your ears in a new and playful way, regardless of whether she’s simply ornamenting her phrases with catchy pop licks or singing nonsensical syllables during instrumental breaks. Don’t worry though—she still has the same bite. Only now it’s highlighted with a sense of maturity.
            By taking an unexpectedly gentle approach to the album, listeners are not only surprised by her calmer side but are also provided with the same intimacy of sitting in on a living room style private concert. Songs like “Mary Jane” and “Perfect” feel like heart to heart conversations while hits like “Head Over Feet” and “Hand in my Pocket” feel fresh and more profound without compromising their ability to get stuck in your head. Interestingly enough, it also makes angrier songs such as “You Oughta’ Know” sound angrier, only in a darker and brooding way.
            Morisette makes a minor but clever lyrical change to “Ironic”, which is arguably her biggest hit to date: “It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife/ It’s meeting the man of my dreams and meeting his beautiful husband.” Little jokes of the same caliber are sprinkled throughout the album for those familiar with the original release. However, those who have yet to familiarize themselves with the music can still get a lot out of listening.
            Re-releasing this album is daring because it’s considered to be one of the top albums of the 90’s. By deconstructing to acoustic, Morisette is potentially challenging her fans in the same way that her single “Thank You” a few years after the release of “Jagged Little Pill”. However, she could not have made a better decision. This new take on the album is truly a masterpiece.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Dogtooth" (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

When was the last time you walked out of a movie theater laughing? Okay, now when was the last time that laughter was a breed of nervous, serving only to relieve tension in the aftermath of the film? Dogtooth (Kynodontas), a Greek drama and dark comedy, leaves little room for any other reaction.
It is the story of a Greek husband and father (Christos Stergioglou) whose highest priority is to protect the innocence of his now teenage children. To do this, he has confined his son (Hristos Passalis) and two daughters (Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni), along with his wife (Michele Valley), to an isolated country estate where they are home schooled and spend their days playing oddly childish games, protecting the property from house cats, and learning the “real” meanings of words (ie: zombies are “little yellow flowers” and a cunt is a “large lamp”). Early on in the film, the father starts bringing home a female security guard, Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), to satisfy his son’s libidinal urges. However, she ends up doing more than just fucking his son.
The rest of the film follows changes in family dynamic and individual characters, especially that of the protagonist eldest daughter, during and after Christina’s interactions with the family. Filled with disturbing abnormal sexuality, instances of physical violence reminiscent of Fight Club, and unexpected American pop culture references, it is impossible to predict much between scenes. Heightened by intense cinematography and camera angles designed to intimately weave viewers into the fabric of the film, it is personal to the fullest meaning of the word.
              In 94 minutes, Dogtooth says more about social conditioning, parenting, and the human condition than the vast majority of films. Exploring the notion that ripened fruit will rot if it doesn’t fall from the tree, this satire may very well make you laugh, cringe, and look away from time to time. Considering that we live in a cinematic world of bubble gum chick flicks and cheesy male fantasy action films, this movie is challenging in a rare and beautiful way.

"Dogtooth" Trailer & Additional Information