Monday, January 25, 2010

Guest Blogger: Captain Sinus Headache!

Do they award medals for bravery in the face of pop culture juggernauts? Well, they should. Today, my good friend Jeff reports on New Moon because I was too scared. Check it:

by Jeff Chaffee

First off, thanks to Rich (or as I know him, Sliz) for asking me to write a little bit. This is akin to asking Pete Rose to lay "a little bet" or Amy Winehouse to do "a little blow," but I welcomed the opportunity anyway.

I will cop to being more a music guy than a movie one, and my street cred for horror is even more bargain-basement than that. A few years back, I hit Rich up for some suggestions to add to my then-burgeoning Blockbuster Online queue. He tossed a few titles my way, mostly Asian/Japanese horror stuff, a few good slices of onryƍ ghost stories. I should've stopped after the original Ju-On: The Grudge, but decided "Eh, one more can't hurt." The "one more" was the acid trip of 2000's Uzumaki, which my then-girlfriend/now-wife still has not forgiven me for. In fact, the last "scary" movie I watched was,,,wow... The Strangers. That's fatherhood for you; the 6 o'clock news is all the terror I can handle with a 14-month old.

Speaking of, it was during one of baby Sean's naps that I picked up Twilight, mostly out of curiosity for what the big damn deal was (ditto for my wife). As Kelli's literary picks were often very good, I trusted her judgment. I enjoyed the book's prose, but found it to be DREADFULLY slow; anything that makes me pine for the action-packed tent epic of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is clearly doing something terribly wrong. A few months later, Sean was napping again (he did that a lot in those days) and we watched the film version. It was nice to have the time to do so, and I found myself liking that way more than paying much attention to the movie.

So this weekend, for our monthly date night, Kelli and I went to see New Moon, her having finished the book about a week before (I'd been working on The Road by Cormac McCarthy...I win that round). Being the music guy that I am, and a snobbish elitist at times at that, I had heard many rumblings about the fantastic indie-riffic line-up on the soundtrack. I too was intrigued by the red-robed figures I'd seen parading around in the trailers for the film. So with that, the promise of a night out and dinner at one of our favorite little spots, I figured I couldn't lose too badly. I was pleasantly relieved. I'll allow myself one dovetail here to talk music: having only heard it (and loved it then), I was happy that Thom Yorke's breathtaking "Hearing Damage" was utilized well in the movie. His solo stuff has been sort of hit-or-miss with me, but "Damage" is just the right scratch for a recent synth/techno itch of mine, and to see it used on the vamp/wolf chase scene to both set the tone and mood of what was to come and to keep the people running throught the forest was just a fantastic post-production stroke. The heavy and muted bassline of the track amped the tension, with his ghost-in-your-laptop vocals layering over the breaking point of vamp vs. Indian vs. wolf kept my usual ass-wiggling at the dark danciblity of the song in check long enough to really dig how it meshed with what I was seeing.

While the movie (and book, per Mrs.'s report) teetered dangerously close to mopey emo vomit a good chunk of the time (see the not-for-30-year-olds spinning camera montage after Edward's Act 1 departure), my favorite part early on was the scene where Bella, trying to get Edward's ghost (WTF? really?) to tell her to stop doing idiotic shit jumps aboard a motorbike, tears ass down a sodden Washington State dirt road, and promptly takes a face-plant into a boulder. HA! This said, though, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't hate the whole thing.

Being a cellar-dwelling fantasy nerd during the horrible years of puberty, I'm big on the classics and on the rules for them. Case-in-point: veering closer to heresy by contemplating and nitpicking some of Michael Jackson's: "Thriller" video, I asked my wife "Where's the Zombie Lord? I mean, is Michael him? He got all these zombies dancing; he must be some kind of necrosavant or something" and so on. Too much D&D/Magic: The Gathering. This in mind, I liked that New Moon got werewolves (or even were-DIRE-wolves as the fuckers were just massive) right: they're WOLVES. They are not wolf-men. Important distinction; I even, after the movie, asked my wife if she thought NM's wolves kept any of their sentience post-transformation. She replied "Dunno. I mean, he [Jacob]looked at Bella a few times, you know?" and then had another bite of french fries. It's not enough to make up for sparkling vampires (really?) but it was refreshing to see that Stephanie Meyer and the screenwriters did get the wolfies correct. To this end, using the tales of American Indians as a backdrop was a neat touch, as was keeping it contemporary by making the wolves genetic vs. gypsy curse. All this said, I'm still done with this whole vamp vs. wolf thing. How did those two get picked to oppose each other? I'd think that pretty much anything would be anti-vamp and that there have to be better pairings out there in the sum-total of folklore.

I've mentioned disliking Twilight's vamps. Yes. Yes I do. At least when "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was making TV vamps warm and cuddly they still ate blood and made it interesting (see Spike's Wheetabix recipe in Season 4) and were still treated as the inhuman demon THINGS that vamps are. The MANY criticisms I have of Twilight's vampires may never even out. New Moon introduced something that did catch my interest though. Pulling influence, perhaps, from the tribal aspects of Blade's vampire families and such, New Moon gives us the Vulturi, old-blueblood type vampires who serve as kind of a world police for the blood-sniffing undead. Knowing nothing beyond the first two books, I do hope that the Vulturi are given more ink as their story seems interesting and they helped to advance Twilight's vamp mythos: they uphold vamp law; they're OLD; they have bitchin' thrones; they punish vamps who break the rules; apparently, vamps are all gifted of some kind of unique gifts over and above the ability to smell good, move fast, and alter their eye color. And for some of the build-up in the first book, I was happy that the scene with the Vulturi answered some of the foreshadowing as to what the hell makes Bella ( thought I write bad female characters...) so damn special: she's like a great big anti-vamp power-sink...telepathy, Cruciatus-cursing, etc. haven't any effect on her. This is another aspect that I hope is given more time in the later books.

THE BOTTOM LINE: I am usually very anti when it comes to vamp romance fiction. One, it's done to death; two, done badly more often than not; and three it leads far too many impressionable and quiet girls to start wearing corsets and eyeliner all the time. Twilight, thus far to my cynicism, is at least told with good writing despite some cardboard cut-out characters and sparkles. The films are fluff just as the novels are; a good way to kill some time. Hardliner horror people will hate them, dabblers will just kind of not get the hype, and 14-year-old girls will need revived with smelling salts. Not exactly "something for everyone," true, but I've seen way worse try to pass itself off as way better (lookin' at you Dark Water). I'll end my editorial with a kind redirect to internet comic strip The Oatmeal and his exploration of "How Twilight Works" availale at (PS: stick around his site and read his work; you'll likely need to change your pants from peeing after laughing too hard).

Jeff Chaffee is a speech therapist originally from Ohio. Don't hold that against him; he lives about 90 minutes north of Pittsburgh now with his wife and son. In his off time, a rarity these days, he writes garbage that he's too chicken to try and publish, and has recently tried his hand at table-top game designing.

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