Tag Archives: The Lion in Winter

“But why are the kids crying?!”

“How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?”

That’s the attitude I try to have when it comes to the death of someone I loved, yet never met.

In 2013, I lost three of my best friends.  The news was devastating every time.  Did I know them personally?  No.  And yes.  And not really.  And very well.

Why did I consider them my friends?  All of them had just, I dunno — all of them had gotten me through so many confusing, shitty, or just plain boring times.  I hope I don’t sound too crazy when I say that.  I’ve never stalked anyone and I understand the difference between fantasy and reality, but yeah, these people meant a lot to me.  They still mean a lot to me.  I can call them my “friends” if I want.  And I was sad when my friends made their exits.

Still, the question remains: “How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?”

Lou Reed?  He ain’t dead.  He can’t be.  I still love him very much and I still have “Sweet Jane,” so nothing has changed.

James Gandolfini isn’t dead, either, and neither is Tony Soprano.  (My theory, anyway.)

Peter O’Toole.  My dearest, darling Peter O’Toole.  The coolest.  The smartest.  The hottest.  The craziest.  That voice.  That height.  That hair.  I think about him all the time and I miss him all the time, and yet, as long as I can get together with my friends every December and laugh and cry and yell and drink champagne while watching The Lion in Winter, Peter O’Toole can never die.

This morning, as soon as I got to work and turned on my computer, I found out that Rik Mayall died.  Today.  Rik Mayall died today.  Weird.  So very weird.  And sad.  He was still, well, young…

Just last week, I was listening to The Pogues and wondering when Shane MacGowan would die.  I was also wondering why Shane MacGowan hasn’t died already.  Seriously.

I should stop.  I don’t wanna give the universe any ideas.

My point is, I was already thinking about my remaining heroes and wondering who I’d lose next.  Apparently, not Shane MacGowan.

Oddly enough, I was also thinking about The Young Ones last week.  I don’t remember why or how, but, quite suddenly and inexplicably, I felt inspired to find the Dr. Marten’s boots song on YouTube.  After watching it, I spent a good hour and a half searching for cheap Dr. Marten’s online.  No avail.

The next day, a co-worker of mine mentioned The Young Ones.  He’s Scottish.  I said, “I fucking love The Young Ones.”  He said, “That’s too weird.”  I asked him why.  He said, “It’s just weird that you even know that show.”  I asked him why.  He said, “I dunno.  I mean, it’s British and it’s old and it’s weird…I mean, I was watching that when I was in high school.”  I said, “So was I.”

If you knew me in high school, you must recall that I was a pretty cool teenager.  I mean it.  Like, the coolest.  For example, when I was 15 or 16, I begged my mom to buy me orange suede ADIDAS like the ones Ewan McGregor wears in Trainspotting.  I felt so badass whenever I wore them.  Like, so very, very badass.  I also begged her to buy me a pair of plaid pants, because, ya know, Scotland.  Or something.

There’s really, like, very minimal plaid in Trainspotting.  I realize that now.

The coolest thing, though, was that every Saturday afternoon in tenth grade (after improv practice, no less) I would go to my friend Kaley’s house for Britcom.  Yes.  Britcom was our somewhat exclusive club that involved eating ice cream and watching British comedies until our eyes hurt.  We wrote a constitution at one point.  I don’t remember what was in it except for The Golden Rule, which came from an episode of Father Ted: “If anyone is ever talking to you again, think about what you’re saying and then don’t say it, and then just run away somewhere.”

The Young Ones was one of Britcom’s staples.  Every David Bowie reference made me feel so damn validated.  I went out and bought a Madness record and listened to “House of Fun” on repeat.  I began referring to my English teacher as a “fascist bully boy,” despite the fact that she was a She.  I seldom said, “I don’t have any money” — I usually launched into a Neil impression and said, “We haven’t got any breaaaad.”  When I was feeling boy crazy I was a “Bitch funky sex machine.”  I wrote “Boomshanka” on things I shouldn’t have written “Boomshanka” on.   I even once got a Starbucks barista to write it on the sleeve of my Americano.  I think I still have that sleeve somewhere.

Rik Mayall is dead.  The people’s poet is dead.  I’m sad for his wife and his family.  I’m sad for Ade Edmondson.  Like I keep saying, though, “we still have his poems.”

My VHS tapes of The Young Ones were dragged from my parents’ house to my college dorm (there was a VCR in the downstairs common room), and when I moved out of the dorm and into an on-campus apartment, I made sure to buy a TV that had both a VHS player and a DVD player.  Why?  Well, how could I live without Neil, Mike, Vyvyn, and Rick?  They were university students, after all.

I still have those tapes.  I’m not ever going to get rid of those tapes.

Aw, Rick.  Thanks for helping make it nearly impossible for me to legitimately enjoy 99.9% of the current comedies on television.  No giant sandwiches falling from the sky?  No jokes about Leonard Cohen being a vampire?  No pervasive political undertones?  No, thank you.

There was also the music: Dexy’s Midnight runners doing “Jackie Wilson Said” and multiple Madness appearances and that great scene with friggin’ Motorhead…

What the hell is that shot of you guys being pushed on that…what is that?  That’s a luggage carrier thing, right?  Well, it slays me.  Every time.

Ah, Rick.  Thank you.  Your show is so damn cool.  So, so cool.  It had everything the teenage version of Steff wanted in a show, and, since 27 year old Steff is very similar to the person she was 11 years ago, it’s still one of my all time favorites.  It’s part of me, really.  An appreciation for The Young Ones (or the ability to sit through several episodes in-a-row) is my litmus test for whether or not a man is husband material.  (Husband, not boyfriend.  Those are two different things.)  Watching an episode of The Young Ones is my solo go-to activity when I’m having a shitty day.  The music that plays during the end credits is what I hear in my head when I’m exceptionally happy.

Aw, Rick.  RICK.  My favorite pseudo-intellectual-anarchist-hipster-bachelor-boy.  You’ve never failed to make me smile.  You never will, you friggin’ weirdo.

 

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My Thoughts On “Blue Valentine”

   If you’re going to make a film about the downfall of a relationship, you better make sure the audience gives a shit about the people involved.

   I recently saw Blue Valentine, a film made famous before its release due to a very public debate over whether it should receive an “R” or an “NC-17” rating. The scene that upset the MPAA was of Ryan Gosling, the male lead, performing oral sex on co-star Michelle Williams, who, for whatever reason, has been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. Well, Blue Valentine got the “R”rating, and the aforementioned controversial scene, like the movie, is, at best, underwhelming. Some may argue that the filmmakers deserve kudos for including a graphic oral sex scene; it’s such a gutsy thing to do. I say gimme a break. The scene doesn’t advance the story in any way. It isn’t symbolic, beautiful, ironic, or anything else that may help give it the label of “interesting” as opposed to “unnecessary.” Plus, it’s not like it was spectacularly shot. If I ever write director Derek Cianfrance a letter, it will simply say, “You’re not Bernardo Bertolucci. The ‘70‘s are over. Go home.”

   Enough whining about gratuitous sex — let’s go get down to it. Blue Valentine is “about” a married couple’s last attempt at salvaging whatever the Hell is left of their relationship. In the beginning of the film, Gosling and Williams decide to leave their daughter at grandpa’s house and spend the night at a cheesy motel to “get drunk and make love” and resolve whatever the Hell they need to resolve (you never really find out any specifics). En route to the motel, they both have flashbacks (Oh, you! I see what ya did there, Cianfrance, you utterly original filmmaker, you!) of the day they first met. Where? At a convalescent home. Gosling, a furniture mover, is moving an old man’s belongings into a new room when he spots Williams reading a saucy romance novel to her grandmother in a room across the hall. I cannot deny that Gosling looks rather attractive during the flashbacks, nor can I deny the fact that if I were approached by a cute, charming furniture mover with great facial hair and great tattoos, I would totally be tempted to go out with him (I’m so not kidding). However, at no point during the flashbacks did I think about how cute the two of them were when they first met/what a tragedy it was that their relationship goes south. Instead I thought, “I think I’ll have those frozen organic enchiladas when I get home.”

   The early flashbacks don’t offer much information other than the fact that the two leads come from humble, somewhat fucked up backgrounds. Like I said, all we are shown about Gosling is that he is a furniture mover. Meanwhile, all we are shown about Williams is her father is an angry bastard. I suspect I was supposed to be afraid of her father, but all he does is throw some meatloaf during a stereotypical “You call this dinner?” moment that’s about as believable as Brad’s Pitt’s accent in Troy. (You want a real “You call this dinner” scene? Watch Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Haven’t seen it? It’s Martin Scorsese. Stop jerking off to The Departed and visit Netflix.) After the meatloaf flinging, we see that Williams wants to break away from her white trash family and make something of herself, but totally ruins her chance when she lets her jock boyfriend screw her without a condom. You don’t understand, she coulda had class! She coulda been a contendah! She coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what she is. Let’s face it.

   At this time I wish to apologize to The Movie Gods for making a reference to On The Waterfront whist writing about Blue Valentine. References happen, and I’m sorry. I can’t help myself.

   What happens when they arrive at the cheesy motel, you ask? Williams takes a shower and Gosling tries to initiate shower sex, but Williams isn’t interested. Then they put some music on the CD player and dance. Then there’s more flashback bullshit, during which Gosling and Williams have a chance second-meeting on a bus and start flirting. They have an impromptu ice cream date and sing and dance in front of a freaking bridal store. While I watched Gosling and Williams give it their best, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. The shaky, It Feels Like You’re On The Outside Looking In! camera work was bothering me, plus I wanted to smack Cianfrance upside the head — yet again — for the bridal store bullshit. We know they end up getting married; we’re not stupid (although maybe we are, because we’re watching Blue Valentine).

   Flash forward to the motel — Gosling and Williams get very drunk and have an argument about Gosling’s “potential.” Williams talks about how Gosling is good at everything he does, and he shouldn’t continue to sell himself short. Gosling says that all he wants is to be a husband and a father. Blah blah blah, awkward sex scene that was obviously shot with the intention of being awkward, blah blah blah.

   I could go on and tell you about how underwhelmed I was by the ending, but, truthfully, I don’t really care to examine any more scenes because it is starting to bore me. This is all I am trying to convey: Blue Valentine is shit. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to present a true-to-life story (IE: cunnilingus and nipples) about two people who fall in love and then fall out of love. I understand that the realism (IE: cunnilingus and nipples) is meant to be mind-blowing. What I do not understand is how they, the filmmakers, failed at making me give a fuck about anything I saw on the screen. Throughout the entire film I wanted to care about something — the characters, the story, the fucking art direction — but I just didn’t. Instead, the thought of frozen organic enchiladas was the only thing keeping me awake. What was keeping me in the theater? The thought that I’d have a blast writing a scathing review.

   Here’s a clip. Williams has to leave the motel early in the morning because she gets called in to work. Not only does she warn Gosling of the possibility the night before, but she also leaves him a note the next morning. I have no idea why he claims he does not know what happened. Perhaps he cannot read? Perhaps that is the reason they fight all the time?




   Before going to see Blue Valentine on Saturday afternoon, I watched a bit of the 1968 period film The Lion in Winter, starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. The film takes place on an exceptionally stressful Christmas Eve, when King Henry II (O’Toole) is supposed to name an heir. His wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn), wants their son Richard (as in “The Lionhearted”) to succeed Henry, while Henry wants John (as in, “The Total Loser”) to be king. Given the circumstances, as well as given the two lead actors, drama ensues.

   In my humble opinion, The Lion in Winter features two of the most kickass performances ever captured on film. Just thinking about the performances heightens my energy level — my mind races and I start thinking about specific scenes and specific techniques and unique choices and unpredictable deliveries and the delicate art of combining subtlety and theatricality. Basically, the full moon rises and I become a Werenerd. Hepburn and O’Toole bring their A -Games as the deceitful, conniving, pissed off King and Queen, both presenting multidimensional performances that put Gosling and Williams to shame. (Duh.) Yes, The Lion in Winter is a work of historical fiction that involves references to King Louis and Thomas Beckett and Eleanor’s “uncle Raymond,” but period film whatnot aside, the film is about a troubled marriage. While The Lion in Winter doesn’t have graphic sex scenes with oh-so-realistic moaning sounds, it does have — gasp! — a fucking great script. Meaty dialogue. Subtext. Complex fucking characters. It tells the story of two people who were in love, and now are out of love, and dammit, I love both of the lead characters from start to finish. I love the horrible things they say to each other while they’re fighting, and I love the few tender moments they share together when they both let their guard down. The writer, James Goldman, neglected to include any scenes where Henry and Eleanor get drunk and yell at each other, and he didn’t include any sappy, indulgent flashbacks; no half-assed, old-hat shocking shit. He kept it simple and created people, not just parts.





   At this point, you may think that I am a judgmental, stuck-up bitch who tries too hard to be cynical. Not true. In truth, I wish I loved everything that I hate — life would be so much easier. I wish I totally dug all the films that are up for Oscars this year — I wish that Black Swan hadn’t made me smirk and that The King’s Speech was my idea of breathtaking. I wish that my top three celebrity crushes were Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Pattinson instead of Marlon Brando, Peter O’Toole, and Robert De Niro. I wish I was counting down the days until the release of the Russell Brand version of Arthur! and that I had never heard of Dudley Moore. I wish my favorite film was The Notebook. Unfortunately, my parents instilled in me an appreciation for good shit, and now here I am, constantly having to bite my tongue when perfectly nice people talk about the brilliance that is It’s Complicated, or about how they can’t wait to see No Strings Attached. It’s a tough life, but fuck it — Blue Valentine is terrible, Michelle Williams didn’t deserve a nomination, and had it not been for those organic frozen enchiladas my Saturday night would have been ruined. For the love of Brando, watch something else. It really isn’t difficult to find something of substance — something conceived by an intelligent writer and brought to life by a brave director and powerful actors. Don’t settle for all the sterile garbage disguised as cutting-edge cinema — you’re better than that, and don’t forget it. Derek Cianfrance, blow me.

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