Word of the Night: Star-crossed

star-crossed \ STAHR-krawst, -krost \  , adjective;

  1. thwarted or opposed by the stars; ill-fated: star-crossed lovers .

romeo and julietThe phrase star-crossed was coined by Bill Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. But pre-dating the Bard’s dramatic offerings, romantic pairings have been star-crossed since boys began meeting girls and boys began losing girls. Samson and Delilah, Antony and Cleopatra, Lancelot and Guinevere are some of history and literature’s doomed couplings.

 

 

Recent additions to the pantheon of tragic lovers are Heathcliff and Cathy, Scarlett and Rhett and Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater.

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And let’s not forget all the boys meeting and losing boys and girls meeting and losing girls. Yeah, I’m thinking of you Ennis and Jack.

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And then there’s these two.  Alex-Piper-orange-is-the-new-black-35506832-1272-711

With the exception of the romantic comedy, a genre so close to extinction even SNL parodies seem hopelessly dated, I can’t think of a cinematic or small-screen couple that isn’t doomed from the start. maggie and glenThe jury is still out on Maggie and Glen from Walking Dead, but I think it’s safe to say with the zombie apocalypse closing in around them, this relationship isn’t going to end well.

 

 

 

 

 

Then we have Carrie and Brody on Homeland, or as I like to call the show, Who’s Going to Mess with Carrie’s Medication This Year? By the end of the third season we were all beseeching the stars, thwart them for God sake! Put them out of our misery. homeland

 

 

 

 

On Game of Thrones, the star-crossed lovers are easy to spot – anyone who’s on screen at any given moment: Ned and Catelyn; Cersei and Jamie; Tyrion and Shae; Jon and Ygritte; Rob and Talisa; Daenerys and Dragon… Daenerys-Targaryen-s-dragons-dragons-31250242-500-333

However, if you looked up star-crossed in the dictionary, and I did, by all rights there should be a picture of Mary and Matthew from Downton Abby. Stay tuned in February to see if Anna and Mr. Bates take their place.

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Finally A Zombie Movie the Whole Family Can Enjoy!

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A few critics are taking shots at Brad Pitt’s post-apocalyptic epic World War Z for its PG 13-Rating.  Apparently there were script and production issues that blew up the budget to 200 million.  Conventional, if not cynical, wisdom presumes the only way Mr. Pitt will see a profit is to fill the seats with as many 12 year-olds as possible.  Interestingly, another summer release one would assume to be tailored for the youth market, The Lone Ranger, is driving the kiddies from the theaters in droves.  Something to do with a beating heart getting ripped from someone’s chest and being used for a light snack.  Well, the name of Lone Ranger’s director is Gore Verbinski.  Parents, there’s your first clue.

As for World War Z, I found myself cheering the restraint shown by the filmmakers.  When I say it’s a zombie movie the whole family can enjoy, I’m not necessarily talking about the kids.  In fact, the action and suspense sequences are probably too intense for most children.   On-screen blood was virtually non-existent in Jurassic Park, but I didn’t let my four-year old see it.  He had to wait until he achieved the battle-scarred age of at least 6.  But I do think World War Z will appeal to a wider audience than the usual horror movie fans who welcome the sight of spilling entrails the way K-mart shoppers warm to the glow of a blue light special.

As I watched scene after scene unfold where the potential for a disturbing image was suppressed in favor of the action taking place off camera, I felt as if director Marc Forster made a zombie movie just for me.  I’m a huge fan of the undead.   Sadly for me, I haven’t seen all the genre has to offer simply because I have a very low tolerance for guts and gore.  Lucky for me, Walking Dead tends to telegraph when something truly disgusting is about to appear on my screen, so I know when not to look.  Ecstatically, jumping-up-and-down triumphantly for me, I was able to watch every single frame of World War Z.

Pollyanna that I am, I see the reason for this as being beyond the desire to make a profit. That reason, I suspect, is the sensibility of producer Brad Pitt.  I’m not suggesting Pitt is squeamish.  In adapting Max Brooks’ book for the screen, Pitt and his band of screenwriters  threw out the unique convention of the source material – first person accounts from multiple survivors – and focused on a single protagonist to capture the essence of Brooks’ theme:  “This shit could really happen, and if does, we’re pretty much screwed.”

In Pitt’s War, a virus puts all life as we know it in peril.  That’s not a new plot devise in the zombie genre, but what is different here is that these ghouls seem more interested in spreading the virus and moving on to the next host than consuming flesh because brains and intestines are yummy.  What we end up seeing on screen are hordes of zombies making lightning-fast strikes.  The horror is the spread of the plague itself, not necessarily the eating habits of its carrier.

I attribute this creative decision to Pitt because of a general sense of his political and environmental activism.  The most chilling and memorable line from the movie suggests the real culprit is Earth herself, trying to rid herself of bothersome humans through all sorts of nasty means.  What could motivate Mother Nature to do such a thing?  Dead Dolphins and other man-made calamities shown in the opening credits offer a hint.

I could be wrong.  Maybe the reason the movie is as light on the stomach as Lactaid is because the filmmakers really do want kids to see it.  But not all kids.  I wonder if the six years it took Pitt to get Z to the screen didn’t have as much to do with production woes as it did with the ages of his children.  The oldest is now 11 and the youngest are 5.   That means he should be able to take the entire brood to see it sometime next year.

Walking Dead Finale: What Dale Said (Spoilers)

“ The world we know is gone. But keeping our humanity? That’s a choice.”

The opening twenty minutes of Walking Dead’s Season Finale was one of the most exciting sequences I’ve seen on TV in a long time.  Maybe ever.  I loved that the gore was not so over the top that I was able to watch every second of the non-stop action. That’s not always the case for me with this show. And when the characters you’ve grown to care about are under siege by hundreds, if not thousands of ferocious zombies, you want to look.  You have to look.

A lot of fans complained over the course of the season that the episodes were laden down with too much drama and not enough zombie action.  Some called it a soap opera.  My partner, who only watches when she happens to be in the room while I’m watching it, was actually impressed with the depth of character development and the intrigue of the various subplots.  She commented one night, “I think the zombies are only a gimmick to get people to watch really good drama.”  And then she changed the channel to Downton Abbey.

For me, it was the care the writers took with the interpersonal relationships that kept me on the edge of my couch cushion.  I was invested in these people and didn’t want to see any of my favorites end up between the molars of a hungry zombie.  Thankfully, none of them did, but in the aftermath of the dramatic demises of Dale and Shane, I took nothing for granted.

Which brings me to my one gripe about the episode.  Once everyone had either made their escape from Hershel’s farm or bought it, and we had our last glimpse of the barn of the dead going up in flames, we returned from the commercial break to find the sun had risen and the survivors were on the road.  Or trying to get there.

We see Maggie hysterical behind the wheel of an SUV with Glen literally riding shot gun.  I’d been saying for a half hour,  “She’s too distraught to be driving”, so I was relieved when Glen tells her to stop the car so that he can take over the wheel.  At least I was until he got out of the car, and Director Ernest Dickerson’s tight shot from the back seat makes it seem as though Glen will never make it to the driver’s side.  The camera doesn’t want me to know what’s waiting just outside frame.  Could be an empty meadow.  Could be a big tree with a zombie or two behind it.

After a few anxious seconds, Glen does make it safely into the car.  He even closes  the door after he gets in.  Doesn’t lock it.  Do I ask too much?   The static two shot and close up reverse angles continue to reveal very little outside the vehicle. Tension mounts.  We’ve been following the blossoming romance between these two likeable characters all season.  The emotions between them are intense and deeply felt.  I want to hear what Glen is going to say to her, but I can’t take it.  I have to fast forward to the end of the scene to make sure a pair of motley gray hands doesn’t come crashing through the car window.

Once I’m sure they both survive the scene, I rewind.  Now I can watch the story unfold and hear Glen proclaim his love to Maggie.  It’s important.  When one of them eventually eats or gets eaten, I’m going to care that much more. 

My point is, while I enjoy a juicy, action-packed zombie feeding frenzy that’s visually restrained enough that I can keep my eyes glued to the screen, I also enjoy a sequence in a horror/thriller where I can relax for a moment and watch the characters interacting without worrying that it’s going to turn into an action-packed zombie feeding frenzy.  I would have shot the scene of Glen and Maggie with a wider angle so that the audience can see they are not in immediate danger.  Just like Rick, I need some down time where I can hunker down and get myself together.  Just because the characters in the story all have PTSD, that doesn’t mean I want it too.

Having gotten only half way through book one of the comic series, I’ve yet to meet Michonne other than her mysterious and timely reveal at the end of the episode.  From what I’ve heard in interviews her arrival promises a wealth of sword on zombie action in season 3.

Laurie Holden seems to be an actor pleased with this development.  Her employment was pretty much dependent on it.  She’s already described Michonne as Andrea’s new BFF for saving her life.  Of course, that doesn’t mean Michonne won’t kill Andrea before the opening credits of the season 3 premiere.  But if she doesn’t, and the two women do develop a relationship, if there is ever a moment in the story when they look into each others’ eyes and exchange meaningful dialogue, if the characters feel and know that they are safe enough to have such a moment, I hope the director will let us have it too.  I’m not asking for Downton Abbey with Zombies.  I just like a story with a little heart…before it gets ripped out of an open chest wound.

Walking Dead Killed the Dinosaur Star

I heard today that Terra Nova has been cancelled.  This saddens me because I was one of the apparent few who watched the show.  I dvr’d it if I wasn’t home.  I  imdb’d the cast during commercials.  I always stay tuned to catch a sneak peak of next week’s episode.

There are a handful of  TV shows I have loved so much that viewing them is akin to a religious experience.  Tops in my small-screen hall of fame are Lost and The X Files. Destined to join them one day are Dexter and Fringe, and probably Walking Dead. But the jury’s still out on that one.

Even if it had been renewed, I don’t think Terra Nova would have made the elite list.  The characters didn’t crack your heart open the way Charlie, Hurley, Sayeed and the rest of the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 did every week. (Just writing their names makes me verklempt).  Despite their attractiveness, Terra Nova’s  leads never generated the romantic chemistry that Scully/Mulder/Dunham/Bishop delivered.  Maybe because the Shannons were already married with kids and often too exhausted to have sex let alone create any tension over it.   Most importantly and most egregiously missing were those jaw dropping moments  that instantly attach themselves to hash tags across the Twittersphere. Those shocking twists and reveals that have you yelling out loud, “Oh my God!” even though you’re watching alone. 

 So why am I disappointed that the Shannon saga is no more?  Why did I ever start watching it in the first place?  The answer is simple.  Dinosaurs.

In my 49 years I can honestly say, with the exception of Barney, I have never met a dinosaur I didn’t like.  The first one I ever saw was a Ray Harryhausen allosaurus chomping on a caveman in One Million Years B.C.  Being 4 years old at the time, I wasn’t too concerned that cavewoman Rachel Welch wore eyeliner, let alone co-existed with dinosaurs.  All I cared about was the menacing monster appearing out of nowhere.  Maybe it was because I had an older sister who scared the crap out of me.  It was comforting to know there was something bigger and badder than her, even if it only existed in stop animation.

Sometimes dinosaurs showed up in the nick of time and saved the day.  It was a sixties sci-fi staple to see the romantic leads cornered by a tongue slashing gargantuan (Usually a garden variety iguana tricked out with triceratops frills or spikes).  Just as the hero and heroine were about to become steak tartare, a second dinosaur would arrive on the scene and a lizard smackdown quickly ensued.  Through an obstacle course of whipping tails and tendrils, the humans used the distraction to make their escape.

 One classic example of this scenario featured David Hedison and Jill St. John in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.  Michael Creighton not only borrowed the title for the sequel to Jurassic Park, the climatic scene in the first Spielberg screen adaptation paid homage to this motif. The sequence with the raptors chasing Alan Grant and company through the compound were some of tensest moments I’ve ever spent in the movie theater.  Thank God for T-Rex party crashers.

My son inherited my love of dinosaurs and related beasts.  By the time he was four years old he had already seen every Godzilla movie rentable at our local video store.  (Video stores – another victim of natural selection). I introduced him to the fire-breathing rubber-suited dude mostly to keep my sanity.  His obsession with Biollant, Hedorah, Rodan and King Ghidorah kept Barney and Friends off our TV screen and out of our lives. 

I’m not sure if I passed all of my dinosaur fixations onto him, though.  I don’t know if he ever looks across a meadow on a bright sunny day and wishes that a brontosaurus head would suddenly pop up over the tree line.  Or if he ever looks at a piece of construction equipment and wonders what the dinosaur equivalent would have been back in Bedrock.  Actually, I do know that he never watched a single episode of Terra Nova, so clearly the fruit has moved on from the tree.

I guess impact tremors and deafening roars just aren’t thrilling people the way they used to.  Maybe if the characters in Terra Nova had been stalked by prehistoric zombies or sexy vampires instead of giant man-eating predators, ratings would have been higher.  A TV show about serial killing zombie dinosaurs. Now that would be worth tuning into!

Eat and Be Eaten

We are now a week beyond Halloween 2011, and while most of us have put away our fake limbs, Karo syrup and red food coloring, zombie fans will continue to tune into episodes of The Walking Dead and dream of lurching and shambling in the year ahead.

 It’s not news that society is fascinated with all things zombie or that many fans enjoy the annual ritual of pretending to be flesh-eating ghouls in zombie walks across the country.  Many theories have circulated as to why this cultural phenomenon has such wide spread appeal and staying power.  What I find interesting about zombies is the fact that they are simultaneously victim and victimizer.  Zombies are just people like us who have been bitten by other zombies.  They represent both the top and the bottom of the food chain. Like Buddha said, “We all eat and we are all eaten.”

 Except for a few dietary habits I’d like to change, I’m fairly comfortable with the eating aspect of the great circle of life.  It’s the being eaten part I have trouble with, and I suspect that I am not alone.  Is that why I and so many others are riveted by stories that tap into our primal fear of being devoured?

 Tales of folks getting eaten by something bigger and badder than us date back to the beginning of time.  Often they involve whales.  And we were told these stories usually at the dawn of our histories.  Maybe if our caregivers had just stuck to the big fish sagas we’d have been better off.  After all, Jonah and Pinocchio survived.  But we were also fed bedtime stories about wolves, bears and witches that loved to gobble up little piggies, gingerbread men and children.  No wonder we ran screaming when Grandma lunged at us with outstretched arms cackling, “Oh, I could just eat you up!”

 When I was a very small child, I invented imaginary creatures called Desert Monsters.  At least I think they were called Desert Monsters.  They could have been Dessert Monsters.  They looked like Gumby, except their heads were pointier, they were black, and they had huge teeth.  And they ate people.  One of my earliest memories is a dream that I had of a Desert Monster biting a chunk out of my mother’s head.  It’s a testament to how young I must have been that I remember there being no gore involved.  No brains.  No blood.  In fact, in the dream my mother’s head wasn’t even hollow.  When the chunk was taken out it only looked like her forehead was indented.  Kind of like taking a bite out of a solid chocolate Easter bunny. 

 So obviously this fear of ending up in the belly of the beast is something that has been with me for a while.  I also remember watching adventure movies and being freaked out when someone got caught in quick sand.  There was always that desperate hand trying to cling to a root or vine, finally disappearing into the bog.  How far would the victim ultimately sink?  All the way to China I assumed.  Eaten up by mother earth and shat out the other end.  What a way to go.

 An even worse way to go would have to be getting eaten alive.  Pythons at least have the decency to strangle you before they swallow you up.  Sharks, alligators, flesh eating bacteria, not so much.  I do go in the ocean because my love of boogie boarding trumps my fear of ending up like Quint, but mountain trails, Florida everglades and islands occupied by monitor lizards, you can count me out.  And I always keep a tube of Neosporin handy.

 And of course, no discussion of flesh eaters can be complete without bringing up the ghastly specter of cannibalism.  People eating people are the yuckiest people in the world. From the Donner Party to the Dahmer Party, cannibalism has always been fodder for sensational headlines and dark humor.  I remember reading an anecdote in the Readers Digest about a missionary who went to help the starving natives in the French Hinterlands.  They ate him.    

 I suppose if I died in a plane crash, I wouldn’t begrudge the survivors the chance to stay alive by feasting on my corpse.  Though, I think you should be able to declare this on the back of your driver’s license.  In the event of an emergency, eat me.  Check Yes or No.

 So speaking of all this eating, what’s the next big holiday on our plates?  Thanksgiving.  Inevitably we will see the story in the news about that lucky turkey who has been spared the butcher’s knife.  And inevitably along with that story will come the image of the not so lucky turkeys huddled together in the pen, looking anxiously around as if they know their fate.  We know their fate, and while many of us look forward to a nice juicy bird with all the trimmings, we can’t help but feel for them.  Those who are not already vegetarians may consider a lifestyle change.  Some may fantasize a plot to rescue the critters.  I always find myself doing this when I pass by live lobsters in the supermarket. 

 But many of us will look away, because the gravity of real terror and suffering is often too much to bear.  And if we took a moment to identify with those feelings and think about our own fragile place in the cycle of life and death, our Thanksgivings might be forever altered.

 So we will sit around the dining table and not think any more about where the turkey came from than we do the potatoes or the yams.  And after the football is over and the dishes are put away, we may find ourselves on the couch with a slice of pumpkin pie watching last Sunday’s DVR’d episode of Walking Dead.  Where the ends of the food chain meet, we find a terror we can live with.