Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, pt. 1


Hollywood. Stop playing with your action figures and park your ass for a second. We need to talk about the “Two-Part Finale” thing. I'm starting to believe that the jig is up. I mean, I get why Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows did it – the book had major pacing problems and by splitting it into two films, they made each half distinctive and arguably more compelling. But you couldn't leave it alone. Twilight did it, Divergent is gonna do it, I'll be surprised if The Maze Runner limits itself to a trilogy...hell, even those Marvel boys fell victim. “It's to make the adaptation better!” you bleat. No. It's to make more money. A better adaptation is just a perk. You're lucky that the Hunger Games franchise is a cut above most of the others (catch up with my earlier reviews here and here), because, really, what did “Part One” of Mockingjay accomplish?

That sounded mean. Is Mockingjay, pt. 1 a bad film? Not at all. Is it the weakest in the series? Yes. I can say that with relative confidence even though we don't get Part Two for another year. You see, of the original novels, Mockingjay is the least liked. It's long and extremely bleak; it has no actual Hunger Games; beloved characters are killed off in a way that George R.R. Martin might chortle at; and heroine Katniss Everdeen suffers emotional gremlins that make her a tad less enjoyable. And guess what? All the most exciting and relevant stuff happens in the second half of the book! Thus, Part One dumps us into District 13, long believed destroyed by the Capitol, actually an underground fortress inhabited by military sourpusses, and frankly, a boring place to spend so much of the movie. Here is where we find Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who has now sabotaged two Hunger Games and incited many of the outlying Districts of Panem to revolution. Her home of District 12 has been reduced to rubble and corpses, but she remains, as does her family, her possible love interest, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and any allies who haven't been killed or imprisoned. Sadly, the latter category includes her other possible love interest, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

Alma Coin (Hunger Games newbie Julianne Moore), president of District 13, and spin-doctor Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman) have Big Plans for Katniss. She's going to be crammed into awesome body armor and stuck in front of a greenscreen as The Mockingjay, the face of the revolution! A symbol of defiance and unity! Katniss initially wants none of it. She wants her loved ones safe, and she wants Peeta rescued. But then Peeta starts appearing on Capitol television, perfectly dressed and polished, urging the rebels to surrender. Gasp! A traitor! Katniss refuses to believe it. She Mockingjays out, and the film becomes a series of conversations and hellish warzone escapades in which...not a lot happens, really. Oh, there are explosions. There is bloodshed that pushes the limits of PG-13. Katniss shoots more arrows, always a pleasurable sight. But it all seems muffled somehow, hidden behind a layer of who-really-gives-a-hoot.

All these characters are so familiar to us by now, and it's kinda interesting to see them grapple with a script that's basically a two-hour tease for the rest of Mockingjay. I can never not praise Jennifer Lawrence, and here, we see Katniss becoming a woman while still hanging on to the last glimmers of a childhood she never really had. I was also impressed by Hutcherson's unsettling portrayal of a guy who's seemingly sold out, until the cracks in the Capitol's makeover start to show. But Liam Hemsworth...hoo boy. He finally, FINALLY gets a decent amount of screen time, and all it serves is to show how uncharismatic he is. Gale should tick like a time bomb, torn between his love for Katniss and his need for bloody vengeance. Hemsworth is just...there. A hunk-shaped lump of nothing much, stalwart and pointless. And he's not the only one. After early attempts at Mockingjay propaganda fall amusingly flat (it's fun to watch a good actress portraying a bad actress), Coin and Plutarch send Katniss into the field accompanied by a film crew, led by the punk-styled Cressida (Natalie Dormer). This would have been a great opportunity to poke fun at stereotypes of guerilla filmmaking and hotshot young documentarians...but, no, the film crew is simply occupying space, like Gale.

The film just has too many characters for its stagnant plot. It could have used a lot more of Woody Harrelson's Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks' Effie, an invaluable duo who are largely sidelined here. When Harrelson first appeared onscreen, a fond guffaw rippled through the theater. And there's a running visual gag about Effie's determination to wrangle high fashion from a world of gray jumpsuits and formica. But both have to ration screen time and neither is present enough for my liking. There's a lot of Hoffman, who always seemed like he wasn't comfy in the role, and Moore, who's one of the best actresses of our time but injects a bit too much warmth into the role of Alma Coin, considering her complete character arc (no spoilers). Yeah, I know, we're really here to watch Katniss. But even Katniss threatens to disappear into the scenery. Brief sequences in rebellious districts are way more exciting than anything happening in District 13. There's an effective bit late in the film in which a covert mission into the Capitol is intercut with a tortured testimony from ex-golden boy Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin). But Katniss isn't really in these scenes. She's treading water like everyone else.

I've been dragged down by this movie's weaknesses. It's still a fine film. This series is admirable for its subtleties, and for the ways in which certain crucial images – a rose, a cat, a pearl – are repeated in silence, their significance unspoken. The Hunger Games movies have never insulted our intelligence, and have found a kind of stark beauty in future dystopia. There's an artful moment in Mockingjay, pt. 1 where a hovercraft flies over an endless forest, and in among the trees, almost subliminal, are the ruins of buildings and bridges. And the final shot of the film is a moment of horror that guarantees we want Part Two to be out RIGHT NOW and not in another goddamn year. But if it were one movie, we wouldn't be waiting, would we? And it could have been one movie, guys. I would rather sit through a complete, three-plus-hour Mockingjay, numb buttocks notwithstanding, then experience two hours of a screen with unimportant things on it. Yeah, I'd watch Jennifer Lawrence and her supporting cast peel potatoes for two hours if I had to, but it's like they got trapped in another, less compelling film and occasionally Skype with the actual Hunger Games series. (“Hi, Donald! How's things? Still rocking the evil Kris Kringle beard?”) This is really a case where franchise-mania trumped the need to make the best film possible.

Still entertaining to watch. But maybe the odds aren't ever in Hollywood's favor.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

To Squee Or Not to Squee: Interstellar

Cautious Enthusiasm: To infinity and beyond.

I kept myself in the dark about Interstellar. I watched the trailers but I avoided any and all featurettes, and did not read any reviews. I did not want to know. Of course, I couldn’t avoid gleaning the general critical consensus, which is that this film is not super great. Good, just not super great. I’m drawing my own conclusions, dammit! This isn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy where everyone knows the plot in advance! I want to form an untainted opinion!

I have. Interstellar is very good. And not super great.

Oh, well.

I now get what they mean when they say, “There’s a great movie somewhere inside this one.” With Interstellar, it’s obvious what’s great and what isn’t. It’s a powerful and moving two-hour film that just happens to be almost three hours long. Director Christopher Nolan makes brainy action films, and he does it extremely well. The Dark Knight remains something akin to a masterpiece and Inception is in my top five favorite movies of all time. He’s tackling something very different with Interstellar. A thrilling film that does not, or should not, rely on explosions, or chases, or villains. A movie where the adventure and excitement comes from discovery. Awe. Super-high stakes. It’s supposed to be very brainy and science-y, and, to be blunt, that’s not what the moviegoing public generally wants to see. Alienate the masses with an overly wordy and slow-paced film, or alienate smart people by making Aliens without the aliens? Nolan tried to compromise. The film shines for most of its run time, then comes dangerously close to suckage when it panders to a lower denominator. Look at me, all snotty!

WARNING: I’ll try not to spoil details but I may spoil generalizations. The film begins in the near future. The world is ending with a whimper. The details of society’s breakdown are kept somewhat vague, but there is drought, there are diseases, and we’re running out of food. Old-school farming is back in vogue, not out of yuppie ideals, but out of desperation. America’s heartland is covered in corn. When the corn dies -- when, not if -- we will starve. One of the farmers in this future dust bowl is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), formerly of NASA, now a widower with two kids. He wants his children to escape their hardscrabble life, but escape is no longer an option in a world where science and the arts have been deemed a waste of resources. Due to a convoluted series of events, an...entity...that inhabits Cooper’s daughter’s bedroom leads Cooper to discover what’s left of NASA: a handful of brains in a bunker, led by Michael Caine, constructing a last-ditch scheme to save humanity. A wormhole to another galaxy has opened near Saturn. Wormholes don’t just pop up like zits; someone put it there. Others have been sent through, looking for inhabitable worlds, but the latest mission will be the last, and Cooper’s the best man to fly the ship. Of course he is.

Yeah, the movie’s big on making Cooper a Jesus figure -- a humble man pushed toward his destiny by a higher power. Sometimes this works and sometimes it feels like the screenplay’s hard at work. (Considering that all the Earth scenes seem to take place in the same ten-square-mile chunk of the Midwest, it sure is convenient that Cooper happened to live so near to the secret NASA project!) It would work a lot less without McConaughey, who’s pretty much perfected the art of seeming like a normal guy, a hero, a wild card, and your best buddy, all at once. This movie is largely about human emotions, with space as the backdrop, and there are moments where McConaughey’s emotions are as raw as a wound. Cooper must leave his family, possibly forever, because this isn’t Star Wars: space travel takes years at best, generations at worst. The ship blasts off, carrying Cooper and three other makeshift cosmonauts (played by Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi, and Wes Bentley), and it’s hardly a spoiler to say they make it through the wormhole. Next comes a hazardous cosmic ballet involving the humans, their ship, some planets, and a massive, syrupy black hole that adds even worse implications to the problem of time passage. Back home on Earth, Cooper’s daughter grows up to be Jessica Chastain, and works tirelessly to prove that the rest of humanity hasn’t been left to rot.

The movie is beautiful in its lack of spectacle. Yes, there are amazing starscapes and alien worlds, but, again, this isn’t Star Wars. Star Wars was a fantasy that happened to be set in space. Interstellar, while playing somewhat fast and loose with science and physics, is as realistic as it can be while still being a blockbuster movie. The look, sound and feel of the technology hammers home how fragile it all is, how we’ve always shot people into space in ramshackle vehicles that could be pulverized with the flick of a cosmic eyelash. It’s all a series of improvisations made by people who can only guess what they’re heading towards. The alien worlds are dreamlike, and the dangers faced by Cooper and his crew are all organic and real, except for the glaring exception I’ll describe in the next paragraph. There are a couple of wry robots aboard, and they look like, given thousands of years of natural erosion and geological forces, they might eventually turn into R2-D2. The special effects are amazing, but they don’t demand your attention; Nolan has always gone for practical, naturalistic effects whenever he can, and nothing we see here looks like something you couldn’t theoretically find in outer space.

And the script is...well, it’s sturdy. But it makes some grave errors. (SLIGHTLY MORE SPECIFIC SPOILERS AHEAD!) The first half of the film is ace, but the last block is...honestly...pointless. There is an element of human villainy. There are some action scenes that exist only to be action scenes. And it drags. On and on it drags, a tiresome detour before the big sound-and-light finale. They could have easily utilized the “bad guy” in a mature, thoughtful way, considering that character’s motives and circumstances. But apparently there needs to be an antagonist. Apparently the film can’t be too absorbed in science and discovery, or else the audience might fall asleep. Me, I became sleepier during those “exciting” action scenes, because they served no point beyond delaying the important parts of the climax. As for the climax itself, I won’t spoil a single detail, but A) I guessed the big twist very early in the film, and B) the film kept going long after I figured it should end. The “epilogue” was there because they wanted to tie up all the loose ends, but...considering where Cooper goes and what he does, was it too conventional an ending? Or too sentimental? Or both? Its clumsy third act is why I didn’t adore Interstellar, why I don’t think it’s as good as Inception, why Nolan can’t yet say he’s made his magnum opus. Sorry, sir. But you let conventional action clich├ęs sneak in and you got overwhelmed by your own epic tale. Points lost.

Still. Don’t be deterred from seeing Interstellar, because it’s one of the best-made science fiction films in recent years. It looks great. It’s beautifully acted, though some of the supporting cast is marginalized. Nolan has struggled to write good female characters, but he’s found a muse in Anne Hathaway. Her playful turn as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises was such a refreshing surprise, and here, she goes the other way, giving a wounded performance that in some places is closer to her Fantine from Les Miserables. (Chastain fares worse; she doesn’t have enough to do and spends way too much of the film standing in a single room, staring into space.) And, again, Matthew McConaughey anchors everything with his easy charisma and boiling-over emotions. I don’t even mind how annoying it is to type his name. McConaughey McConaughey McConaughey. He’s just that good.

It’s a shame that Interstellar wasn’t that which I mean, as good as we all hoped. It’s not going to redefine movies and Christopher Nolan is probably going to make better films down the line. I’m glad he went outside the box to make this one, because it shows he’s not limiting himself to action and Batman. Trim the fat from Interstellar and it’d be another minor masterpiece. As it is, it’s worth your time. And time, as this movie demonstrates, should be spent well. Do not go gentle into that dark knight.

VERDICT: In space, no one can hear me squee. But it’s a solid squee anyway.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show--Episode 7

4.7: Test of Strength

--First of five-year-old laptop is dying, as Apple products generally do when they reach the age at which Apple wants you to pay them more money. While I pursue various solutions and/or scrounge for a new computer, I'm using my boyfriend's. This post and possibly the next few will be my “Notes in Exile.” In case anyone cares.

--Now, then. Metaphors galore. Last week, the spinning bullseye stood in for the unpredictability of life itself. This time around, it was the famous sideshow attraction where you pound a button with a hammer and try to ring the bell. It tests your physical strength. It's how men attempt to prove themselves to their wives, girlfriends, secret mistresses, whatever. In Freak Show, the only guy who can ring that bell is Dell Toledo. What he may not realize is that a test of strength refers not merely to the brawn, but also the mind and soul. How strong a man are you on the inside? How can your character withstand certain moral challenges? This episode handed Dell a huge, whopping chance to redeem himself. He did, but not in the ways that mattered. And after teasing us by fake-killing half its cast, Freak Show finally stuck a dead freak in a jar for real. And it SUCKED.

--For once, we didn't get much of the Motts. Jimmy's ominous arrival at their manor last week was a fakeout, as he seemed to be in no danger. He tried to talk Bette and Dot into returning home – and succeeded, after Dot discovered Dandy had snooped in her diary. Jimmy also realized that, quite possibly, Dandy was the other dude in the clown mask on Halloween night. They left, and Dandy was so upset that his entire face appeared to be trying to hornk itself up his nose. Now, however, Bette's ego is out of control and she wants more of the high life: blonde ringlets, caviar, comedy routines. Bette is, quite frankly, a dingbat, and Dot knows it, so she spearheaded a blackmail scheme, using Bette as a tool to try and force Elsa into kowtowing to the twins' wishes. In Dot's case, she wants to skim half the ticket money so she can surgically banish her sister. As before. Tease.

--For some reason, Stanley is no longer concerned that Esmerelda ain't really onboard any more. He's got a new plan. After spotting Dell at the gay bar, Stanley initiated the second blackmail scheme of the episode, confronting the big galoot and demanding that he snuff a freak, else his man-chasing ways be exposed. I have no fucking idea why, but Dell chose Amazon Eve as his target. Yeah, Dell, go after the eight-foot-tall transgendered powerhouse. Great plan. Awesomely, Dell got his ass kicked halfway to Miami...and, worse for him, Ethel and the other ladies decided to straight-up black widow him in the dead of night. Ethel maybe had reason, for she and Desiree dropped in on their kindly doctor friend to find he'd killed himself. And his daughter, full of anguish and rage, blamed the freaks for her dad's demise and kicked them out. It was a moment of utter injustice, and it opened the floodgates for another Kathy Bates Emmy Award moment, as Ethel whimpered about all the evils of the world, all the rotten shit that life continues to dump on her. The target of her tirade, Jimmy, didn't get it...or didn't seem to.

--Jimmy had a lot going on this week, and I'm rather relieved that he didn't once mention Meep. (Though he did growl through some Nirvana. A lot of people hate this season's musical interludes, but I kinda like their offbeatness.) He tried to calm down the vengeful women, and then he confronted Dell himself. They went to a bar, and the problem is, when two guys go to a bar, bromance often occurs. Nothing like liquor to erode a man's mettle. Drunk and garrulous, Jimmy had no clue what father-son bonding felt like, and so didn't realize he was doing it. Or did he? In the alley outside, Dell considered braining Jimmy with a brick, making him the dead freak delivered to Stanley's greasy paws. But then Jimmy revealed that he'd figured out Dell was his father. And he just wanted Dell to confirm it. Dell did. I liked this so much better than the stereotypical “shocked revelation” scene. It also led to Dell and Jimmy doing a raucous, drunk double act. I suspect many actors secretly hope they'll get to play shit-faced at some point in their careers. So Dell's a real dad now! Can he clean up his act? Well........

--Before I get to the tragedy, let's briefly touch upon the random subplot of randomness. Penny wants to be with Paul and the freaks for good, and because most parental figures on AHS are over-the-top terrible in some way, her daddy said, “Okay!” and got a tattoo artist to turn Penny into an alligator girl. So what? She hated her old life anyway, and somehow I doubt Paul will care if his girlfriend's a bit inked up. I kinda like her with scales.

--Also, Elsa and Dot started up a secret comminique, re: Bette is an irritating problem that should be taken care of. But then Elsa told Stanley about all this, and Stanley's inner monologue went: I can snatch and formaldehydify the twins with Elsa's blessing, just like that? Bonanza! Ahh, but Ethel seems to have overheard. Tease.

--This show has characters I hate because they do shitty things, like Elsa. It has characters I hate because they do shitty things and are badly-portrayed, like Monsignor Howard from Asylum. And then it has characters that do shitty things and that I know I should hate, but can't bring myself to, because I see the pain in their eyes. Dell is such a character. He is so, so torn. Scared of his newfound tenderness toward Jimmy. Stuck in his macho rut, unable to understand his homosexuality. Hating himself. Hating the people who he thinks mock him. He could have fixed everything this week. Here is what I wanted to happen: I wanted Dell to go to Ethel and the ladies and admit that Stanley had blackmailed him. Tell them everything, so that the freaks could give Stanley the horrible death he richly deserves. Instead, Dell snuck into Ma Petite's tent, sweetly gave her a beautiful new dress, and then, his face haggard with self-loathing, killed her. Ma Petite is dead and in a jar, and this time...this time it's real. Why can't I hate Dell? What he just did was unforgivable. And yet...and yet...there is good in that man. I hope, I HOPE, he will accept enough of it to atone in some small way. Somehow.

--Unless, next week, Ma Petite isn't really dead! Jesus...I hate that she died, but if they fake us out one more time, I will go all Angry Ethel on their asses.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show--Episode 6

4.6: Bullseye

--Deah dah-ry, it was nice to see Bette and Dot have some actual freaking screen time in this episode...even if they, like so much else, are a giant tease. “Bullseye” was all about teasing us with things that may or may not happen, and if at least some of those things don’t come to pass, I will leave Freak Show feeling like it was all foreplay and no real sex, if you know what I mean. The thing is, foreplay can be really awesome and feel great. Doesn’t mean it’s okay to be left with blue balls.

--The tease surrounding Bette and Dot is The Surgery. A grotesque thing to imagine, one which Bette refuses to think about and Dot desperately craves. Life within the Mott manor is quite plush for the Tattlers. As ever, Bette reacts to the change of scenery with dewy-eyed bliss, while Dot is pinched and suspicious. Dandy, however, is a boy transformed. He’s in love! He’s gonna marry the twins and be a real man, finally! Gloria is torn between hope that her son’s murder-a-thon is over, and selfish dread that she’s losing him in other ways. (I like to imagine that she’s thinking, “Dammit, if I hadn’t named him ‘Dandy’ none of this might be happening!”) Dot only warms up to Dandy once she sees a news article about conjoined twins who were separated. Oh, but one twin died. Boo hoo. Dot don’t care. She’s still smitten with Jimmy and she wants Dandy’s cash to fund her Bettectomy. So many characters, lovestruck over things they can’t have.

--Elsa. I kind of hate her, honestly. Like, even her tragic backstory came about because she was stupid enough to let evil men drug her and tie her to a bed. It’s her birthday week, and she’s getting all kinds of presents, one of which is a male phallus that’s possibly tattooed and hopefully not beflippered. Yes, Elsa’s sleeping with Paul the Illustrated Seal, and Paul can’t help but feel like he’s being used. Just as Elsa uses all her freaks, one way or the other. Yes, she rescued them from awful places, but it seems clear to me that everything she’s done has been self-serving. She saved the freaks because she knew they’d be in her debt and because, let’s face it, she figured most of them would be too mentally inferior to see her as anything other than a saint. Which makes her a shitty person, as she kept on demonstrating this week. So, another tease: how long before Elsa goes too far? If she hasn’t already.

--Paul got a lot of screen time this week, which was awesome. Shout-out to actor Mat Fraser, who has Thalidomide to thank for his small arms, and who is a also a drummer and performance artist. Dude has formidable screen presence! Paul may be schtupping Elsa but he’s also sneaking off to canoodle with Penny, that candy striper from the first episode. Penny, who is played by that not-terribly-talented Meryl Streep daughter who stabbed the shit out of Danny Huston back in Coven, is basically a whiny teenager who hates her whitebread life and gets into shouting matches with her daddy over who doesn’t appreciate whom. Sigh. Dunno why Paul wants her. But he does, and a trip to the pharmacy for some ritzy perfume led Paul to cross paths with Dandy, who is buying...two hairbrushes? Two ladies’ headbands? Hmmmmmm. Paul is vewy, vewy suspicious.

--The tease that’s really getting on everyone’s nerves is the con artists and whether or not they’ll actually murder a freak. With the twins gone, Stanley’s new target is Jimmy and his Shamu hands, only Esmerelda, who loves Jimmy?....I guess?...talked Stanley into snuffing a different performer: sweet little Ma Petite. Another shout-out to actress Jyoti Amge, who is officially the world’s smallest living woman, and who is (sorry if this sounds condescending) so bloody adorable that anyone with a soul fears for her safety. Hey, like I said last season, it’s a bad idea to ignore what makes some people different, but we should totally respect them for being the radiant folks they are. Ma Petite’s petiteness is why it was really fucking awful and disturbing to watch Stanley and Esmerelda stick her in a jar and drown her in formaldehyde. SHUDDER. But of course, it was just another fantasy/dream/what-if sequence. No more of those, okay, show? Especially if you’re not really gonna follow through with it. I don’t want to see any more freaks die, but in some ways it’s worse to have no payoff at all. Esmerelda found she couldn’t bear to kill Ma Petite, and now Stanley’s super-pissed and is demanding that Esmerelda ditch her soft side. Not sure what kinda leverage he has over her. Hey, Esmerelda, Stanley’s got a mega-penis. Why don’t you send THAT bad boy to the museum in a jar?

--Desiree and Dell were an effective tease this week in that they didn’t get one second of screen time. See, show? This is what happens when you overstuff your cast!

--All the suspicion, the behind-the-scenes grumbling both real and imagined, was too much for Elsa. When Paul confronted her about the twins, she threw a titanic Jessica Lange tantrum, which led right into this week’s ham-fisted metaphor, the bullseye. In her glory days, Elsa used to fling knives at a “victim” strapped to a spinning target, and she made sure we knew the symbolism. How fate spins you in all directions. How even a skilled human being can fuck up. How you can guess the trajectory of the blade, but you can’t predict it perfectly. Y’know, like life and stuff. Not a bad metaphor, even if Elsa’s VOs explained more than they needed to. Rather bizarrely, Elsa demanded that a freak get on the wheel and prove their trust. Paul volunteered, maybe because he felt bad, or because he didn’t want to see his fellow freaks in danger, because he’s a better human being than Elsa will ever be. The wheel spun; Elsa flung her knives. Was it all a big fake-out? No. Her third knife connected somewhere in the vicinity of Paul’s pancreas, and Paul is now bedridden, maybe dying. Elsa was all like, “OH NO WHAT HAVE I DONE REMORSE REMORSE”....but she didn’t call a doctor. Because she sucks that much.

--Pray for Paul. And pray the other freaks get a clue. Ethel bluntly promised Elsa that she’ll kill her if she discovers treachery. I kinda wouldn’t mind seeing that. It’s another tease, along with the tease that Penny’s shotgun-wielding daddy might follow her to the freak show and the peace between the freaks and the Jupterites may be ruined. Oh, and the tease that Jimmy might face a bigger threat than Stanley’s plotting. His suspicions roused, Jimmy went to the Motts’ to hunt for Bette and Dot...and Dandy, meanwhile, having read Dot’s less-than-flattering diary entries about him, has reverted to stab-happy mode and seems to think Jimmy’d make a good third victim. DAMMIT, GLORIA, DO SOMETHING! You’re the Angel of Death! Or you will be in twelve years.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show--Episode 5

4.5: Pink Cupcakes

--Let it be etched into the stone tablets of history: American Horror Story is the show where Michael Chiklis played a gay man. Yes, world, It Gets Better.

--I imagine some people didn’t like this ep because, well, the show’s gotten a bit soap-operatic in places. Everyone has relationship issues and everyone has a torrid secret, yeah yeah yeah. Like I said before, I approve of the less zany pacing of Freak Show, and “Pink Cupcakes” mainly served to kick off Act Two and set up future strife. The big thing right now is our sleazy con artist (his actual name is Stanley. About time we found that out!) and his quest to turn a freak into a museum exhibit. Rather obnoxiously, the show kept faking us out by showing dead characters in jars and then going, “LOL, this hasn’t actually happened!” That is cheap storytelling, show, and to be honest, I half-hoped the “deaths” of Bette and Dot would turn out to be legit, because it would be such a grim and unexpected move. It was certainly a horrible sequence, as Stanley poisoned the Tattlers with the titular confections and Dot found herself sharing a body with her dead sister. But it wasn’t real. Obviously. Stanley is capable of murder, though, and Esmerelda was concerned enough to try and talk Jimmy into scarpering. But Jimmy...hasn’t gotten over Meep yet. Good lord, tell me that’s not gonna be his one big issue.

--Yep, Jimmy is still all, “Bawwww, I got the gimp killed!” and I sympathize, but it undermines his strength as a character. Jimmy wound up crying on the shoulder of Desiree, who’s also morose because Dell’s never home any more. The two of them started up some hanky-panky, interrupted when Desiree began bleeding from the place you don’t wanna bleed from. Ethel took the voluptuous herm to that kindly old doctor from before, who revealed the truth: Desiree ain’t a herm, she’s all woman. Her “ding-a-ling” is an oversized clitoris, and a bit of cosmetic surgery could make her fully normal. Plus, the blood was from a miscarriage, and now Desiree has a motherly glow in her eyes. Of course, her happiness can’t last, but I’m just pleased they gave her this much screen time. Because Angela Bassett is so awesome to watch. I can’t even.

--Not surprising for someone who named her son “Dandy,” Gloria Mott hasn’t a clue what to do. Upon discovering Dora’s corpse, Gloria was mad enough to not buy Dandy’s attempt to play innocent, but she did swallow the idea that her son just can’t help himself. After all, he’s a product of aristocratic inbreeding! Of course he is! The notion that Dandy’s parents were also cousins is amusing, but I’d almost prefer there to be no explanation for his lunacy. It’s scarier to imagine that sometimes, psychopaths just happen. Anyway, Dora’s body is buried and Dandy, like so many serial killers before him, has directly linked murder to his libido. Which led to him being disturbingly sexy, as he oiled up and worked out in tighty-whities and tennis shoes while composing some sort of mental manifesto about how his gorgeous psycho body is a metaphor for America. Or.........something. The amount of manflesh on display was no coincidence, because...

--Dandy went hunting at a gay bar, which was definitely the sexiest, hippest, and most crowded gay bar one could possibly hope to find in Florida in 1952. But what I didn’t expect, what kind of amazed me, was the other familiar face among the clandestine gays. Dell Toledo, ladies and gentlemen. The show just explained everything about his character. A man who’s never happy, who’s overly macho but also uncomfortable in his own skin, who seeks out women with male characteristics because he thinks, wrongly, that it’s a functional substitute. Dell suffers from the closeted, confused, alienated pain of being gay in 1950s America. Worse, he has a secret boyfriend, an artist/hustler named Andy (Matt Bomer), and Andy sees Dell as just another john, and Dell wants sincerity but doesn’t know how to be sincere himself, and Michael Chiklis fucking killed it this week. I never would have thought. But, hey, just shows we’re moving past stereotypes. Unfulfilled, Dell returned home to Desiree, who confronted him about Jimmy’s parentage and moved out. And then Dell went to that nice, kindly doctor, the one who treats freaks like human beings, the one who could make Desiree normal...and Dell snapped the doctor’s fingers like matchsticks. Poor Dell. Thug and monster by choice, because he thinks he has no other option.

--Maybe he doesn’t. Because Andy went home with a murderer. Home to the Dharma van. Andy and Dandy, what a pair. Two gorgeous guys stripping down to their underwear, as Andy contemplated his dreams of homoerotic art shows. Whereupon Dandy stabbed Andy a bajillion times and tossed his severed limbs in a bathtub full of acid, while Andy took a very, very long time to die. (“You’re making me feel bad!” whined Patrick Bateman Junior.) Vintage AHS: you cringe, then you laugh, then you feel horrible about laughing. RIP, dude who might have had a future one day. Now Gloria’s got more cleaning up to do, and meanwhile, she got a call from the last person you want pissed off at you: Gabourey Sidibe, playing Dora’s daughter, Regina, an upwardly mobile schoolgirl perturbed by her mother’s recent silence. Gloria’s between a hunk and a hot place. The former is her bloodsoaked son, still expecting Mommy to fix his problems, and the hot place is Hell, where she is probably going.

--Last but not least...Stanley wooed Elsa with tales of TV fame. Elsa scoffed, until her latest “Life On Mars” performance resulted in boos and flung popcorn from the local rubes. Meanwhile, Stanley was also seducing and/or attempting to murder Bette and Dot, so Elsa decided she’d had enough of the competition and dumped the Tattler sisters on Gloria and Dandy’s doorstep. Well, GREAT. Now nobody’s happy at all.

--I know I’m not. Because now I want some goddamn cupcakes.