29 January 2008

Something That Makes You Go, Huh?

Every now and then, you see something that just makes you stop and go, Huh?

The History Channel's show 'History's Mysteries' is all about decoding myths and, well, mysteries from, well, history. They explore things like Stonehenge and the Knights Templar (very popular in the wake of 'The Da Vinci Code' - this is, after all, Dan Brown's world, and we're all just living in it), but every now and then they do something with a little more, pardon the pun, life in it. Like the mystery of Dracula.

The character of Dracula was based for the most part on Vlad Dracul III, prince of Wallachia (now a part of Romania). Modernly thought of as a patriot who fought against the invading Turks, Vlad earned his epithet "The Impaler" for his cruelty towards those who offended him. (Evidence states that when there was an ambassador at his court whom he disliked, he had their hats nailed to their heads.) The blood-sucking habit was the invention of Bram Stoker, or rather, Stroker collected information from around the world and gathered it all together into the single character of Dracula.

All this is pretty yada yada yada, but what really made me sit up was at the compulsory Where Are They in Pop-Culture moment at the end of the program. Wedged between the stuffed Dracula dolls and boxes of Count Chocula breakfast cereal was scenic footage of - I kid you not - the Hotel Castle Dracula.

Settled in the same mountain pass that serves as the opening landscape for the opening of Stoker's novel, the hotel comes complete with all the modern day conveniences you'd expect of a service edifice only 25 years old. Including a "Turkish Bath," according to turneo.ro. The hotel, from the literature I could find online, is quite an experience, including role-play dinners and titles like "Baroness" for the guests, who get their portraits hung in the lobby when they win. One Romanian tour company website described the hotel's location as "the ideal spot for lovers."

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for exploring the best and the worst of the local culture, no matter where you are. Still, something about the whole set-up of Hotel Castle Dracula just made me think, You poor suckers. You're just asking for it.

27 January 2008

Heath Ledger

At 9 p.m. tonight, TVGN (which seems to have no website that this blogger could easily find) is airing a program called 'Heath Ledger: A Hollywood Tragedy.'

Less than five days after his death, he's already the subject of a hastily-made documentary-wanna be fit to air during the SAG awards.

The man has only just been laid in the ground. The cause of his death is still undetermined since the autopsy was "inconclusive," according to the AP. And they couldn't even wait a week before airing this program.

How incredibly ridiculous that the culture of celebrity is prompts the executives of this TV station to try to attract viewers and advertisers when the family has barely had a chance to grieve.

Programs like this are hardly an example of well-rounded journalism or story-telling. Nor is it remotely sympathetic.

As Disappointing as Being a Bridesmaid

Sometimes I wonder exactly how some of these movies get made.

It's not only that the modern day romantic comedy has more over-used formulas than a high school science lab. It's that they're so utterly lacking in charm even at the most basic elements. You'd think that any writers or story-tellers, such as screen-writer Aline Brosh McKenna and director Anne Fletcher, would have had to sit through enough romantic comedy movies to recognize a formula when they see one. But they don't credit their audiences with the same knowledge and skills of recognition.

So they set about making '27 Dresses,' most egregious misuse of formulas I've had to endure since tenth grade chemistry. The cringe-worthy cliches start with the first scene and endure to the very last. From the sad, single, always-a-bridesmaid Jane Nichols (Katharine Heigl) to cynical, secretly-wounded Kevin (James Marsden). All the other elements are there: the storm-wrecked car, the "this is a great song" playing in the bar, hasty decisions and repentances, and more sudden epiphanies than the New Testament. Particularly tortuous was a sequence of what were meant to be meaningful, insightful, soul-searching and relationship-changing conversations. One or two in a film is excusable. I counted no less than six, all within fifteen minutes and with not even a coffee break in between.

Everything about the film screams abhorrently of over-doing it. Any single woman with friends can understand and sympathize with the ungrateful task and unspeakable torture of being a bridesmaid, but the lengths Jane goes to for her friends would test the most patient and accommodating of women. To have voluntarily forked over a share of your dignity - not to mention the money - twenty-seven times for such honors? Too incredible to be believed.

A more appropriate question would be how Jane afford a Manhattan apartment after paying for all those dresses and the closet space to put them in.

08 January 2008

I Saw It On Television - A Review of 'The Farnsworth Invention'

Aaron Sorkin’s writing style isn’t for everyone. Television had a hard enough time with his fast-paced and information-crammed dialogue. Transitioning the style to theater, where actors speak slower and audiences listen accordingly, isn’t easy; and the first ten minutes of Sorkin’s new two-hour play ‘The Farnsworth Invention,’ now at The Music Box, are spent getting used to the dialogue and exchange between the characters, for both the audience and the actors.

Once that hurdle is passed, the audience is in for some remarkable performances, coupled with lessons in history, science, and if you’re paying attention, morality.

The play follows David Sarnoff, president of the Radio Corporation of America and founder of NBC (Hank Azaria,) and Philo Farnsworth, a genius farm boy from Idaho (Jimmi Simpson) as they race to create the world’s first television and, when that battle is lost, to get the patent to it. Snippets are shown of boys’ youths, in which they display similar courage and dispositions, before growing up into men with dissimilar fortunes and power. At the end, Sarnoff manages to keep his fortune, while Farnsworth gets to keep only his integrity and shattered idealism. In the scene where the two face off, it’s hard to tell which of them envies the other more.

Other cast members play multiple roles, usually with a passable amount of grace and fluidity (though Nadia Bowers’ accent as Sarnoff’s French wife sounds more like Russian,) and all of the cast double as stage hands. The set, staging and costumes all work well, but Sorkin’s script remains central in any theater-goer’s mind. When the lives of Sarnoff and Farnsworth are branded by emotional strife or tragedy, Sorkin doesn’t cheapen them by lingering too long. The play lives by the theme eternalized in the very first (and last) episode of Sorkin’s ‘The West Wing’ and stated by Azaria in his closing monologue of the play: “It’s what’s next.”