Music was, indeed, Faced: finally reflecting the return of Bill & Ted

My dad was never one to let go of something he believed was a “superior technology.” This means that now, in the year 2020, Dad is still the proud owner of a fully functioning Betamax player. Our family home only ever saw a VHS player once the last video rental store in the area to carry Betamax finally gave up this Ghost of Slightly Smaller Cassettes.

I still have a vague memory of the place, with its musty carpet, nearby All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Buffet, and rack of week-long rentals that included my favourite movie of all time (pun intended): Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

We’d journey here weekly and my dad would always tell my sister and I we could pick out one week-long rental. For a months-long stretch, we rented Bill and Ted over and over and over again. Even the jokes that went right over my head I committed to memory. (Freud’s corndog, for instance, I didn’t even notice until someone pointed it out for me at the ripe old age of twenty-six.) I still say, “Strange things must be afoot,” every time I pass a Circle K. I even stole this t-shirt off an ex-boyfriend before giving it back out of guilt:

What can I say? Wyld Stallyns pairs nicely with weird hats and peanut butter.

Needless to say, years have passed and every time I’ve revisited Excellent Adventure, I enjoy it just as much as I did when I was a kid. (Bogus Journey I just never loved as much, so matter how much I wanted to. I’m sorry!) With the exception of a certain slur*, the film holds up remarkably well. The upright joy and utter sincerity of Bill and Ted were always refreshing, no matter how bitter and cynical either myself or the world seemed to be.

Now, my bitter and cynical days are behind me, tossed on the heap of exhaustion caused by rampant hipsterism. I was just done with irony, tbh. A lot of people were sick of snarky, mean-spirited humour and crass “hot-takes” just intended to provoke. It comes from a position of such privilege and entitlement – the cultural equivalent of a relative who vocalizes his observation regarding the sheer size of your thighs and then claims it was a joke… like he’s the Seinfeld of school yard bullies. It’s exhausting. Really. There’s a point where you’re just… done.

So when the announcement came that the third Bill and Ted movie was on its way at long last, I was not alone in my excitement. But then *gestures to the dumpster fire* happened and… a new Bill and Ted became more than a want; it was a need.

Husband and I certainly did not go see it in a theatre. We aren’t crazy people, and, to be honest, I’m not even sure theatres are open in B.C. But we were certainly willing to fork out whatever they demanded in a rental fee. Thirty years I’d waited for this! I have no idea how much my dad paid to that little video rental place over the weeks that time, but I doubt my $20 eclipsed him.

We had the streaming rental of Bill and Ted Face the Music for 48 hours.

We watched it three times.

Yes, Husband watched it with me all three times and that’s how I know it’s true love, baby.

As I started it for the third time, I wondered if this was a silly thing to waste my weekend on, but, well, these are silly times. I’m thirty-six years old and god damn it, I needed to feel like a six-year-old again, just for a few hours.

But the thing is… I didn’t feel like a six-year-old. At least not just. Because the film wasn’t just silly.

*SPOILERS AHOY*

As much as I loved seeing Bill and Ted hop into the future to meet the various incarnations of their future selves, my favourite part of the Face the Music was their daughters, Billie and Thea. How perfect Brigitte Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving were aside, after the second and third viewings, I really came to appreciate the thematic nuances of their storyline.

On my first viewing, I wasn’t surprised with the twist that Billie and Ted’s daughters were the ones who wrote the song that saved the world (not to brag, but I, like totally called it after the trailer, when Holland Taylor’s character mentions the song being by “Preston/Logan,” but anyway… yeah *self-satisfied shrug*), but I was surprised at how moved I was by the ending.

Not gonna lie, I definitely teared up at the fact that it didn’t actually matter what the song was, it was the fact that everyone was playing together that saved the world. Christ, I’m tearing up again just thinking about it. In those more bitter and cynical days this would have been written off as cheesy, but fuck those days; it was beautiful.

And then…

AND THEN. The closing credits.

The inset clips of people rocking out in their living rooms, yards, parks or wherever while the various world monuments popped back into place… well. I doubt there’s ever going to be a time (at least in the foreseeable future) when various Zoom-like shots of people in their different homes, all over the world, isn’t going to make me emotional. I’ll be a little old lady in the year 2075 when some awards-show bait uses this convention and I’ll be a blubbering mess while my grand-niblings wonder what the hell is wrong with me.

So after the first viewing, the theme was clear: we’re better together. Music is a universal language and our commonalities will unite us.

And yes, these endings and this theme got me again the second and third viewings, but those second and third viewings, I was able to appreciate the nuance of Billie and Thea’s storyline and how it hinted at a deeper, more mature theme. As they travel throughout time to put together a most excellent bad for their dads, what I loved most is how what convinces the different musicians to join is not an explanation of the situation, but the other musicians playing for them.

Louis Armstrong is convinced by a video of Jimi Hendrix playing guitar, while Armstrong in turn plays his trumpet to convince Hendrix. Hendrix then lures in Mozart by playing his guitar along to Mozart’s piano. Mozart then picks up Ling Lun’s flute and plays it to get her on board, and so on. By Bill and Ted also conceding that their daughters are the ones to write the song underscores another theme (or perhaps just adds another facet to the first).

There’s no such thing as a solitary hero. We’re all on the shoulders of giants, so to speak. We are all part of a continuum, a piece in the larger puzzle. Even a rock hero like Jimi Hendrix was beholden to those before him like Louis Armstrong or Mozart. Even a genius like Mozart had Ling Lun before him. Even Ling Lun – the mythical inventor of music – had someone before her.

The idea that enthralled me as a kid – the idea that anyone, even dudes like Bill and Ted, could be a singular hero that save the world – seems childish now. Because it is childish. It takes the egotistical naivete of a child to think that a single person alone can save the world, to think that there could somehow be a single song so perfect and wonderful that it could save humanity.

This is where Face the Music has evolved and matured from the earlier offerings. While recognizing, as the films always have, that the initial premise – Wyld Stallyns music saves the world – is silly, now they have to reckon with that reality (or, face the music, I suppose). This is where they turn a bit of a storytelling conundrum into a opportunity. There’s a truth underlying this all: Bill and Ted can’t save the world. Not alone. No one can. If we’re going to be grown-ups about this, we need to recognize we’re just a part of a larger whole. No one is going to save us; we have to do this ourselves. We’re not heroes, but we can be heroic.

So many people have said that this was the movie we needed right now, and they’re right. But really, we’ve needed it for a long time.


* I will not repeat it here, but if you know the film you know what I’m talking about and I just wanted to point out that even as a kid, that line never worked for me. Hell, I didn’t even know what it meant beyond my mom’s explanation of “it’s not a nice word.” In the context, however, it didn’t work for me because it seemed to suggest that Bill and Ted were embarrassed by showing affection towards each other, which just struck me as out of character. These two bundles of love who obvious deeply care about each other are red-faced at accidentally letting the other know how much they care? Ridiculous.

On the End of Mad Men

(aka: What the hell am I gonna do with my life now? Overanalyze Game of Thrones? Yeah, right. Okay, whatever.)

So that took a few days to digest. I’ve been drinking heavily ever since. I’m glad Monday was a holiday here in Canada.

Naturally, I’ve been pouring over reviews of the finale, unable to really let it go. It’s been a bitch of a hangover. I still have the Coke jingle in my head.

Continue reading “On the End of Mad Men”

Random Train of Thought Departing from The Grand Budapest Hotel

When The Grand Budapest Hotel opened last weekend, Husband and I missed it. It was only playing in one theatre and it sold out. (Get your shit together, Vancouver.)

One week on, even with a wider release, we barely squeezed into the theatre.

Casting glances around to our fellow movie-goers, I realized that the stereotype of the bespectacled, cardigan-ed Wes Anderson fan isn’t true at all. Every demographic was there: from child to senior, with every Millenial, Gen-X, and Boomer in between. My parents even like Wes Anderson movies even though I suspect they’ve never discovered they are all by the same guy.

Last night’s viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel wasn’t the usual Friday night blockbuster experience. This film managed to have the varied population of Coquitlam in the palm of its hand. You could hear and feel the audience’s presence the whole time: not just laughter, but gasps, cheers, held breath, and the absence of muttering, talking, and rustling.

Continue reading “Random Train of Thought Departing from The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Mad Men is the Story of an Addict

Perhaps it is rather ironic that the AMC website uses cocktail recipes to market Mad Men, because, when viewed correctly, Mad Men is about the devastating effects of a life lived for alcohol.

Aviary Photo_130301726507582024But it’s subtle, as addiction often is at first. I never noticed it as much on the first viewing. The sheer normalisation of wanton alcohol consumption on Matthew Weiner’s Madison Avenue is what strikes you first. “I’d love to have a bar in my office,” you think. It seems so glamorous and Romantic. These are the kind of people who tip back half a bottle of Canadian Club then smash a glass in a fireplace and make love to Elizabeth Taylor.

But on the second viewing, it takes on a different colour. The fates of Freddy Rumsen and Duck Phillips (the former losing his job after drunkenly wetting his pants and the latter fallen so far from the wagon as to get kicked out of the Clios) are far less humorous when you watch it again. These are two men whose personal and professional lives were ruined by alcohol but are so carelessly brushed aside by those who can still conceal their disease.

Continue reading “Mad Men is the Story of an Addict”

Is the Development Still Arrested After all These Years?

It’s been how many years now since Arrested Development went off the air? Oh jeez, I’ve lost count. I do know it started about eight or nine years ago, and that’s when I started watching. I’ve also lost track of how many people I’ve introduced it to, of course then needing to watch it along with them. This also means I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen the series through.

This past month, my husband (whom I introduced to it, of course) just watched the series through for the second time. And I got to watch him watch Arrested Development. I remember him two years ago watching it for the first time. It was strange how I looped back so quickly to the memory. The two of us – not a couple, but roommates; those days of awkward flirting still ahead of us – and our other old roommates from The Commune, sitting in that old backyard, on that old rickety wooden patio furniture, with my old laptop plugged into an extension cord, watching my old Arrested Development DVDs, and drinking that old stack of booze that one other temporary roommate left behind.

Continue reading “Is the Development Still Arrested After all These Years?”

Am I the only one who doesn’t like Downton Abbey?

For such a critically acclaimed show, Downton Abbey is pretty crap. What are the problems with it? Those frequently cited include: contrived, formulaic, elitist, and cloying. But others? I think the fact that it is so highly rated is what makes this almost unbearable. Were this show just considered so-so, I’d be fine with it. It would be a guilty pleasure, even. But I can’t handle the idea of everyone thinking it so wonderful. It’s just… not. So what about it frustrates me so badly? In short: it is clichéd and nostalgic to a fault.

There is nothing original about it. I’ve actually laughed out loud at the absurdity of many of its plots and dialogue. Jarring anachronistic speech aside, it falls back on convention so readily I genuinely want to believe it is a satire. But it’s not. Its characters are two-dimensional, either white-hat types or moustache-twirling villains. Its period setting does nothing to make itself relevant; one just gushes at the fancy dresses and swoons over the romance of a time and place that never really existed.

We are total dicks for no apparent reason whatsoever.

As for the nostalgia, it is naive to think that simply by making class visible, Downton Abbey is criticizing the class system. IT IS NOT. If anything, it upholds it. It casts it like a beacon, a museum piece of a bygone era, something to cherish and admire. Where something like Mad Men functions as a microscope, Downton is a pedestal.

Shows like Mad Men are successful because play on our fondness for the romanticized past by subverting your expectations. The unexpected adherence to the “realism” of the times is what provides the critical eye; it underlines what is wrong with those attitudes. For instance, in Mad Men, sexism and racism are dealt with without the filter of modern-day moralizing. This leads us to examine those issues as they really were and how those issues still exist in a contemporary context. Contrarily, by anachronistically altering the world view of that era in order to preserve our modern values, shows like Downton Abbey actually cover up the issues.

Raise a glass to our shared pretensions, shall we?

Actually, it doesn’t just cover them up, it varnishes them with the thick gloss of tradition. Not tradition in a historical sense, but in a storytelling sense. For instance, one of the worst moments in the show is when Maggie Smith’s character (one of the Lady Granthams), reads out Mr. Moseley’s name as winner of the rose competition in the village despite the judges pandering to her social status and unjustly awarding her the prize. Such a cliché in the worst possible sense. Beyond the laziness of that “character building” device, all this does theme- and story-wise is acknowledge that class differences existed back in 1914. Which we all know anyway.

But, hey, the show seems to suggest, it wasn’t all that bad. The upper classes were benevolent rulers who treated their servants like beloved members of the family. And they were just so gosh-darned nice. As Mary points out, Lord and Lady Grantham share a bed, which is weird for the day. Their marriage of convenience turned into one of love and respect. So apparently, arranged marriages are all sunshine and roses, too.

Smugness wears an ostentatiously large hat.

The show started with potential here to work out class issues, especially with Bates and Lord Grantham being war buddies, but it has failed to live up to its promise by engaging in ridiculous soap opera plots. The moment it all turned is when Lady Mary appeared in Anna’s room, telling her that what’s-his-face-the-Turkish-guy, died. His name is something stupid, isn’t it? I can’t remember, he just seems to be The Hot Turkish Guy. A plot point like this sudden, inconvenient death (while functioning as a way to not only move the action forward but to push it off a fucking cliff) has failed to pull itself out of its own absurdity.

And the absurdity continues. Now I’m all for characters having interesting pasts and (as it looks like the upper class characters don’t have much of a past at all) this task will fall to the servants of Downton. But, seriously, do you have to do it in such a hackneyed way? Do you really have to go the long-lost lover come back for some middle-aged romance? The “I used to be a drunk and a thief but I’m a nice guy now” trope? Two evil servants who wants to fuck up some shit with no apparent motivation other than they were passed over for promotion? The secret VAUDEVILLE PERFORMER? HONESTLY?

One of us dances a mean jig.

I’ll give you some credit, Downton Abbey. Beginning the show with the sinking of the Titanic was interesting. Perhaps even inspired. However, a historical touchstone that moved the entire country and shook the foundations of the household so much as to set the entire story into motion should not come to be the most subtle plot point in the series.

I also admire the introduction of the middle classes into a common trope usually focused on only the upstairs/downstairs dynamic. At first it seemed like a marker of increasing complexity, as if to note Hey, it’s the twentieth century. Class dynamics in Britain are not gone, they just splintered into shades of grey. But alas, Downton Abbey, you’re all about the black and white.

It’s even been coloured-coded for the lazy viewers.

The complexities of the class system are inherently intriguing. (Before you claim that I am just going all Marx on this show, class is the most explicit theme Julian Fellowes is working with here.) But the class discrepancies have been battered out into doldrums of a soap opera, relying so much as it does on cliché. Where do I even begin? Lady Sybil’s rapid campaigns for suffrage? The bile-ridden banter between the upper class and middle class matrons? How about the Disney-level nuances given to the supporting characters? The humble gardener wringing his hat in his hands? Ditzy Daisy the kitchen maid? The crotchety overweight cook? The chauffeur who is both IRISH and a COMMUNIST? (Oh my god, he wants to read! He must be a Communist!)

That aside, Lady Grantham’s “Americanness” and her vast fortune (that somehow saved the estate) at first seemed like it would raise intriguing insights into Anglo-American relations and financial interdependence. But all it really did was loudly proclaim: “This is great, isn’t it?! This whole class thing. Shame if something were to happen to it.” You see, Matthew Crawley, the new heir to the estate is just so… middle class.

But those eyes….

But we like Matthew. As does Lord Grantham and Mary (Albeit her like of Matthew is rather more complicated. Perhaps the only marginally complicated thing in the whole show.) Even though Matthew is likeable, we are still led to lament the idea that the middle class shall one day in inherit the titles and wealth of the landed gentry. *Cue snooty guffaw.*

We are supposed to think that it is a crying, fucking shame that Mary will not inherit the estate. Even if Matthew was a total dick, our sympathies are drawn to the plight of the acidic Mary because the show explicitly tells us they should be. However, I feel no sympathy for Mary. Yet, Downton Abbey, you tell me I should. Why are no real qualms made as to whether Edith or Sybil should have a right to the estate? So it’s a gender thing, you say, not a class thing? It’s apparently unfair that Mary does not inherit because she’s a women, but it’s no worry that Edith and Sybil are shafted simply because they were born second and third? So, there’s no problem with this part of Inheritance Law.

Ladies and Gentleman, the most interesting plot: these two love each other and if they get married, everyone’s problems are solved.

Even though Lord Grantham says himself that he’s just a steward; the estate does not belong to him. By this (frankly odd) logic, are not then the servants (the ones who actually get their hands dirty in the maintenance of the estate) the caretakers? And why the hell does it matter who inherits just as long as they keep the building from crumbling to the ground? I can’t be the only one who thinks Mary would be appallingly bad at this, right? I wouldn’t trust her to keep a goldfish for the weekend, let alone take care of a whole fucking estate. And if she marries, does this not all go to her husband anyway?

Ugh. I’m exasperated just thinking about it. I mean, the show does hit the mark in some small moments, but it is by no means capable of inciting an intriguing premise. It’s essentially pap with the odd interesting idea. Apparently, that’s been enough for critics, audiences, and the Hollywood Foreign Press, but all that does is make the disappointment worse. The expectations were so high. But all it is is Emmerdale a hundred years ago.

Are television shows the new novel?

I once heard someone describe Mad Men as the television equivalent of the “Great American Novel.” The “Great American Novel,” as a descriptor, carries with it sense of formality and scope. By definition, it is… well, defining.

What does it mean, then, when something like Mad Men has a far more expansive impact on the cultural landscape than your average contemporary novel? Are we really in, as some critics might claim, a golden age of television? Or does television just reach a broader audience than literature?

Continue reading “Are television shows the new novel?”

My Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two

(Originally published at Press Plus 1)


(SPOILER-FREE, BUT YOU WILL PROBABLY HATE ME ANYWAY)

I’ve lamented before, often at great length, about the inherent difficulties that lie in attempting to review something so beloved as Harry Potter. That difficulty is only compounded when taking into account the fact that this is indeed the last film in the series. There seems to be such an outpouring of grief and/or relief over what many are calling the end of an era. As a fan, I can understand the emotions at hand here, even though the term “mourning period” seems rather ridiculous when one takes things in perspective.

Continue reading “My Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two”

This has Always Bothered Me About Beauty and the Beast

These following are snippets of a conversation yesterday with Dr. Roommate, regarding the Disney classic, Beauty and the Beast:

Me: I’d be like, “Yay, I don’t have to serve you anymore! You know why? Because I’m a f*****g candlestick because of you, you stupid d*****bag!” Then I’d waddle into town and haunt people.

Dr. Roommate: We all know that all Lumiere cares about is sex anyway.

Me: God, that must be frustrating for him!

Dr. Roommate: Yeah, with no penis. But who knows what goes on under that candlestick holder.

It all began as Dr. Roommate mentioned how weird she suddenly realized it was that Mrs. Potts actually boils tea inside herself then serves it to Belle. ‘It’s sick when you think about it,’ she said, ‘It’s like Mrs. Potts excreting bodily fluid.’

Continue reading “This has Always Bothered Me About Beauty and the Beast”

My Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

Originally published at Press Plus 1


WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS

It’s difficult to offer a review of a Harry Potter movie without first providing a preface stating one’s biases. Are you a Harry Potter fan? If you aren’t, why are you going to bother seeing (the first part of) the last instalment now? Why are you even bothering to read a review? Perhaps you plan on making a game of it by bringing your binoculars and your “Who’s-Who-of-British-Film-and-Television” spotters guide.

If you are a fan, you will see this film regardless of what I have to say about it. With that said, you will love it. Being a fan myself, I find it difficult to imagine what it could be like watching these films without the plethora of knowledge about the wizarding world firmly ingrained in several wrinkles of my grey matter.

Continue reading “My Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One”