Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Skipping Batman v Superman, Not Out of Laziness But Out of Principle

The New York Times review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of the Subtitle described it as “less a free-standing film than the opening argument in a very long trial.” This is far from the only damning review of the movie, which will probably prove be a blockbuster anyway. Like Superman himself standing sturdy through a hail of gunshots, this movie will repel criticisms about its length, logic and overall look as if they’re nothing. It has to make money, and so it probably will.

But it occurred to me today that even before the first eulogy of a review hit, I already had a great reason to skip this film: I walked out of Man of Steel.

Before you react to that statement, you should know that I’d never walked out of a film before. I saw Ghost Dad in theaters. I was Rock-a-Doodle. I even sat through a screening of Joe Dirt that was free, therefore meaning that I could have left at any time without incurring a financial loss. Also know that I love DC superheroes. I also like your Spider-Men and your X-People, but I’ve always cared more about Batman and Wonder Woman and (to a lesser extent) Superman.

I, however, did not enjoy Man of Steel, which was directed by Zack Snyder, who is also directing Batman v Superman. I didn’t hate it; no, that would be a strong reaction. I was simply bored by it. I saw it when I lived in Los Feliz, walking distance from the Vista Theater, and I’d gone because I’d gotten home late from work on this particular night but just in time to trot over and slip into a seat in the back row. “Surely this will be more fun than sitting in my apartment alone,” I could have said, but didn’t, and good because it would have been a lie.

It’s also important that you understand that I saw the vast majority of Man of Steel. I really tried. But near the end of the film — or, I suppose, what I’m imagining was near the end of the film — there was a scene that made me literally throw up my hands in exasperation.

It was the scene with Jenny. Fucking Jenny.

Jenny Jurwich (Rebecca Butler), in case you’ve forgotten, is the movie’s kinda-sorta Jimmy Olsen character — an intern at the Daily Planet about whom we know nothing and about which we’re given much reason to care. You could argue that the audience isn’t given reason to care for or about many of the film’s characters, but at the very least most of them are versions of familiar characters we’ve cared about in other forms. Amy Adams, for example, is playing this kinda-sorta version of Lois Lane that never feels quite right, but at the very least we know she’s Lois. Jenny, however, is no one. And during the film’s cusp-of-the-apocalypse scene, she somehow gets trapped beneath rubble.

I’m foggy about the circumstances of her extrication, but I think it played out something like this: Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) is all like “No! Jenny! My intern! I have always loved you!” And Jenny is all “[SCREAM]” and then the residents of Metropolis are all “No! We have to save Jenny! Free Jenny!” And they band together to pull her out and the city rejoices because they deeply love Jenny for some reason. I’m probably exaggerating, but I feel like the scene lasted about twenty minutes, at which point I asked myself, “Wait, who the fuck is this person we’re supposed to care about?” And then I realized I didn’t care if Jenny turns out to be Doomsday in disguise. I didn’t care what happened to her. She only existed to get trapped in rubble and briefly become the focus of a dramatic scene. I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, really.

I just wanted to leave, so I did. I got home and read the ending on Wikipedia, popped open a bottle of wine and watched Adventure Time, which is a great show that tells its stories in tidy, ten-minute chunks, but which Zack Snyder probably wouldn’t like because ten minutes is not longer than two hours and also it’s colorful and also Jenny the Fucking Intern isn’t a character.

According to IMDb, Rebecca Butler is reprising the role of Jenny in Batman v Superman. I’m honestly unsure if I will have the honor of seeing her revisit the role that made her famous. But yeah, I’m faced with the odd situation of there being a big-budget Batman movie about to hit theaters and I’m not the least bit interested in going to see it.

Maybe Suicide Squad will be good?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Best Bea Arthur Story I’ve Ever Heard

I grew up with The Golden Girls. I watched it on Saturday nights with my parents, because when you’re a kid living somewhere that’s a bit further than a bike ride from any of your friends, that’s a standard evening’s entertainment.

I remember that Sophia Petrillo taught me the word “slut,” which I promptly used at school. I got in trouble, of course, and when my teacher asked me where I’d learned that word, I said “Golden Girls.” It’s weird thinking about how a show about four old ladies could have been a corrupting influence, but I’d wager it did more good than harm.

Years later, I found out the show had a huge gay following, and this was surprising because I thought it was just a weird thing that I really liked. It was gratifying. It made me feel more connected to a community I didn’t have that much first-hand experience with, even if I didn’t immediately understand why it would have resonated with gay dudes. This past week, I got to interview some of the people who wrote for the show. We talked about their experiences on the show, but also why they thought the show got the devoted following it did, and why people — gay and otherwise — still watch the show today.

The piece appears in the print edition of Frontiers, but I’m going to direct you to the online version. I ended up getting so many good stories from those writers that I added an extra 1,000 words online — just because I knew there were people out there who would want to learn as much as possible about what it was like behind the scenes on the show.

And in particular, I’d like to draw your attention to one story that is my absolute favorite. I was speaking to Mort Nathan, an executive producer on the show who also co-wrote a lot of episodes, including the one where Rose dates a little person, and he told me something that affirms everything I’d want Bea Arthur to be.

TV Guide had done a piece on the show: ‘The Golden Girls—Is it still as good as it was the first year?’ And they asked random people what they thought of the show, and this one housewife said she didn’t think the show was as good and that Bea Arthur’s character wasn’t as interesting. They mentioned her by name—Mrs. Betty Johnson, Sioux Falls, Iowa. So Bea reads this at lunch and then gets on the phone and asks information for this Betty Johnson’s number. And she calls her. And she picks up, this TV Guide woman, and Bea says, ‘This is Bea Arthur, and I want to talk to you about what you said in TV Guide.’ The woman was horrified. She said she was misquoted. ‘I didn’t mean it. Is it really you? I love the show. I take it back.’ And Bea goes, ‘That’s what I thought. OK, that’s better.’”

I just can’t believe she fucking called the woman. I mean, can you imagine? Hearing that voice on the other end of the line, and she’s knows you said something about her and she wants to have words with you? And this is pre-Twitter, pre-internet. She just found this woman and reached out. I love it. It’s awesome.

Winifred Hervey, who also wrote a lot of great Golden Girls episodes, also told me that story, but she added one part that makes me like it even more: “And then Bea said, ‘That person’s going to go tell everyone that I called her, and no one’s going to believe her.’”

Just perfect.