Wednesday, June 10, 2015

When Even the Director Doesn't Think You're Hot

This is basically a necropost in anticipation of some upcoming renewed blogging activity. I don't know why I didn't post it when it was written, and it's been quite a while since then. But on rereading, my feelings remain the same, so here goes:
 So, if you've looked at my Twittering, you know that I've surrendered at last to the overwhelming lure of a new 40 inch flatscreen TV. With HD and DVR. With three separate remotes and no clue how to do anything. And after marveling at the sheer amount of human genius devoted to allowing me to count the number of sequins on Vanna's dress, I faced the inevitable bounceback: 100 HD channels of nothing to watch.

So I dial up the old On Demand and what is there? Very little for which I have any demand. But at last I settle on Mrs. Winterbourne (1996, Richard Benjamin), which I remember as one of those cheesily enjoyable movies that provide an agreeable way to kill 2 hours without danger of exercising any brain cells. But the movie was neither as fun nor as pleasantly mindless as I thought.

I've never read the original Cornell Woolrich novel I Married a Dead Man (note to self: put on BookMooch wishlist), but I have seen the first film version No Man of Her Own, and I think it's safe to say that Mrs. Winterbourne has lost something in translation. Not only have the screenwriters half-heartedly turned it from a taut noir thiller into a big-misunderstanding-wacky-hijinx romantic comedy, but they have gone out of their way to make Connie unbelievably young and innocent, when it really would have served the plot better to make her a little more rough around the edges, a little more in need of the redemption that the Winterbourne family offers. And look, I don't hold it against Ricki Lake that she's no Barbara Stanwyck. I mean, who is? But plenty of actresses could have done a creditable job in the part -- just look at Sandra Bullock in the basically-not-dissimilar While You Were Sleeping. Ricki's either flat or over the top -- she just drags the film down, making her very good co-stars Shirley MacLaine, Brendan Fraser, Miguel Sandoval, and Loren Dean work all the harder for very little reward.

But none of that is what I want to talk about. No, I want to talk about Ricki Lake's clothes.

They are tragic. They are heinous. And not just in a this-is-the-'80s-what-can-you-expect kind of way, either. (I was surprised to learn this movie was made in the '90s. It just has that '80s feel about it.) No matter what the decade, these clothes are epically bad.

It doesn't make any difference what part of the movie we're talking about, either -- whether she's a plucky teenager leaving home; homeless and pregnant in New York; wearing the expensive clothes of the rich girl she's replaced; or spending the Winterbourne largesse on a few new outfits -- Ricki's wardrobe is uniformly floppy, droopy, too long, too dark or too pastel, and intended to cover every inch of skin. (At least when she flees Jersey, her skirts only reach her knee, but she wears black opaque tights to make up for it.)

The kicker is when some icy WASP girls make fun of Connie for her big Jersey hair (not that big) and loud makeup (not that loud, although: cool it with the purple eyeshadow). They don't say a word about her dress, although it could use a few: it's a long, drab white tent covered with a matching duster, completely colorless and shapeless. Shirley MacLaine whisks her off for the inevitable magical makeover -- and she emerges with a $29.99 fat girl's bob* and a long, droopy pastel pink-on-pink suit with about 17 layers to it, entirely colorless and shapeless. This is enough to make Brendan Fraser fall in love.

In the whole movie, Connie only gets to wear one remotely pretty outfit. At her engagement party, she has a sparkly purple gown with a boned corset that actually displays her rack and shows her waist. When lowlife Steve remarks, "Not for nothin', Connie, but that's a good look on you," he's not wrong -- or he wouldn't be if the dress weren't inappropriately floorlength and equipped with an unnecessary jacket to prevent her from God forbid showing her arms.

I initially thought that the costume designer was a talentless hack who should be horsewhipped and drummed out of the corps forthwith, but it turns out that she may have done one or two OK little projects, so I must place the blame elsewhere. And then it hit me.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about the backstory of this production. I don't know how it came to be made, how Ricki Lake got cast, or how Richard Benjamin got involved. But it's clear to me now that Benjamin didn't want to work with Ricki. He thought she was fat and unfuckable, and that since he didn't want to do her, neither Brendan Fraser or anyone would or should want to do her. So his directions to the costume department, stated or unstated, were: "Keep her covered." (This also explains the almost entire lack of love scenes -- an odd omission for a rom-com, n'est pas?)

I also don't know much about where this movie falls during Ricki's dramatic weight loss story.** The only details I could find, at IMDB, said that she'd already lost 125 pounds but "they" made her lose another 20 before filming (which: figures!). Now, I think it's fair to say that in this movie, Ricki is certainly not Hollywood slender; she might even be a little chunky. But she was a very pretty girl before she lost weight, and she's a very pretty girl at whatever weight she is here. With another director, and better clothes, I think more people would have seen that. 

*I have a fat girl's bob. I like it and it works for me. But I'm not a 19-year-old lady of leisure with nothing to do but fit in with the millionaires and/or snag a man.
**Yeah, I kind of hate her for selling out and spreading her if-I-can-do-it-anyone-can-do-it bullshit, but I have to admire her. However she did it, a woman who's lost that much weight and kept it off for more than 5 years is literally a freak of nature.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Persona Non Grata

Persona Non Grata, Ruth Downie

Downie's series continues to be a kind of poor man's version of Lindsay Davis's Marcus Didius Falco books. It mines the same veins of humor and culture while attempting to show the similarities between people then and now -- but only half as successfully. The mystery in this book is spoiled by a very misleading prologue that seems to point toward the guilt of one particular character; since the information is never known to Ruso or Tilla and the character is never suspected, it dupes the reader to no purpose.

My main problem with the book is one that I had with the earlier books in the series. I don't buy the relationship between Ruso and Tilla at all -- for all this great love they supposedly share, they never talk to each other or understand each other at all. And I continue to find Tilla in particular extremely dislikeable.

A Duty to the Dead

A Duty to the Dead, Charles Todd

An interesting new series from Charles Todd, still mining the psychological effects of WWI on the participants. Bess Crawford is a plucky and sympathetic character, and overall the book is an enjoyable read. However, Todd at times seems as hampered by period social conventions as his heroine. The central mystery is easily penetrated, and once you've done that it's not hard to guess the perpetrator -- although I confess Todd made me waver in my conviction once or twice. The ultimate explanation for the crime rings somewhat false.

Monday, August 10, 2009

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Static for an Important Announcement

It's with some surprise that I learn that someone over at Rotten Tomatoes is posting movie reviews under the handle "museofire" (cuz I thought I was so clever and original and everything). For the record, it's not me. I do use "MuseofIre" in places like Twitter that don't allow spaces in screen names, but always with capitals.

Y'know, the idea of personal branding is suddenly starting to make a lot more sense. Before this, all I could think was, "That must be painful."

Friday, August 07, 2009

Victory of Eagles

Victory of Eagles, Naomi Novik

A great entry in the Temeraire series -- the best, I think, since His Majesty's Dragon. The choices made by Will and Temeraire in the last book have devastating consequences for both them and England, and although the book ends with a victory, those consequences are not thereby wiped out. Will continues to be a thoroughly decent and likeable hero, while Temeraire is thankfully losing some of his childish naivete. Portraits of historical figures, particularly the Duke of Wellington, some interesting interaction among the dragons, and kickass battle scenes complete the pleasures of this book.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Catching Up a Bit

The ARC gods at LibraryThing have been extraordinarily good to me recently, but before I get to those books, it turns out I have a few from earlier I need to acknowledge.

  • Dreamers of the Day, Mary Doria Russell. The first two-thirds of this book, describing Agnes's early life and travel to Cairo, are well-written and entertaining, and Russell's portraits of the real-life figures of Churchill, Lawrence, and others are fascinating. However, the whole tone of the book is a little too "fly on the wall of history" -- Agnes has no real effect on the unfolding of events, and they in turn don't really do anything to alter the arc of her life. The quasi-mystical/fantasy/religious final segment is completely tacked on and unnecessary.
  • Tokyo Year Zero, David Peace. I made several valiant tries, but I could not progress more than a couple of chapters into this book. The incoherent style and unpleasant subject matter made it unreadable to me.
  • Pushing Up Daisies, Rosemary Harris. It's hard to find much to say about this debut mystery, which is sort of like rice pudding: OK if you like that sort of thing, but not the most original or tastiest dessert in the bunch. The mystery is fairly well plotted (although the murderer is obvious from the get-go), and some of the secondary characters are well drawn (unfortunately, not the heroine). One annoying point: I found it impossible to tell what the heroine's background in television was supposed to be. Was she a filmmaker? A scheduling executive? Or what?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Back. In the Saddle Again?

Excuse me. . . hello . . . is this thing on? Whoa, wicked feedback.

There, that's better.

I just wanted to pop in for a moment to say that the medical issues that have sidelined me for most of the last year seem to be pretty much fixed (crossing my digits and knocking wood repeatedly). I'm going to have some minor unrelated surgery in a couple of weeks. When I recover from that, I fully hope and intend to start blogging again regularly. I miss it and have lots to discuss, including several ARCs I so generously received via LibraryThing.

Also, you may have noticed I've started Twittering -- it's kind of like blogging lite. Follow me at @MuseofIre.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gladiatrix, by Russell Whitfield

Mindful of my obligation to review this book for LibraryThing, I struggled valiantly to finish it, but despite my best efforts, I could only get halfway through. It would take a doughtier warrior than myself to conquer Whitfield's leaden prose, abysmal dialog, complete absence of characterization, and predictable plotting.

Except for the heroine Lysandra, there's not a single character with a spark of life, but in her case that's not a recommendation. The arrogant know-it-all who doesn't realize how others perceive her can work well when used sparingly or for comic effect -- see Elizabeth Peters' ever-adorable Amelia Peabody, for example -- but Lysandra is utterly without humor or charm. She is simply an unlikeable brat who needs a big dose of get-over-yourself.

Whitfield's endnotes (I always read the endnotes) acknowledges someone who helped him get rid of his contemporary point of view, but I'm afraid that person had too much to contend with to take care of it all. The author seems concerned, for example, that readers will find Lysandra's temple implausible and justifies it at some length. To me it seems perfectly plausible, except when we come to Lysandra's function as a "mission priestess." I am by no means an expert on ancient Greek religion, but it seems clear that proselytization was not one of its features; it spread haphazardly through conquest and syncretization with existing local deities.

The more serious historical lapse involves the so-called Tribe comprising the women from Gaul and Britain. We modern readers can accept that they all fall into an overarching definition of "Celtic," but I sincerely doubt that an Iceni and a Dacian are going to automatically recognize each other as blood-sisters.

On a shallow note, Whitfield's sex scenes are embarrassing and far from erotic, not only as though he knows nothing about lesbians, but as though he knows nothing about sex between any two people anywhere.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Murder on the Eiffel Tower

Murder on the Eiffel Tower, by Claude Izner

I received this as an ARC from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers group, and if I hadn't been obligated to review it, I would never have finished it. This book is a very weak historical thriller set in the heady atmosphere of the Paris Exposition of 1889. It has the stiff prose I associate with bad translation, but translation alone can't account for its clunky exposition, unrealistic dialog, shallow characterization, haphazard plotting, and pointless name-checking. The hero suspects his lover and business partner on less than no evidence, and never does come around to guessing the identity of the real killer until he reveals himself. In a way, that's not surprising, since the killer's motive is laughable, and the authors provide no substantive clues whatever.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Know How I Said I Was Back? Not So Much

Remember how I mentioned last time I'd been having some health problems? Well, they're ongoing. Nothing too serious, but debilitating enough that basically all I've got the energy for is working, reading, and sleeping. Lots of sleeping. Blogging? Not really on the agenda right now. So while I may pop in now and again, you can consider me on the dreaded hiatus until I get my innards seen to.

As long as I'm here, though, let me just say this about that. Did you ever have an old friend you hadn't seen in a while, and then you got together, and suddenly you realized that all his little jokes were really racist, or all she could talk about was dieting? That's kind of how I'm feeling in rereading the Smith and Wetzon mysteries by Annette Meyers. I really liked these books back in the day, and I kept them when sorting through Mom's collection, but on reflection, I have to wonder what it was I saw in them. The heroine, Leslie Wetzon, a former Broadway dancer turned Wall Street headhunter, is a terrible investigator; especially in the first book (The Big Killing), she consistently withholds information, tampers with evidence, lies for no reason, and fails to ask the crucial and obvious questions.

I can't blame her entirely for her dysfunctional relationships with her partner and cop boyfriend, though, because however prickly and defensive she is, neither one of them is any prize. Smith is materialistic, greedy, narcissistic, and manipulative (cue obligatory "and those are her good points"), while Silvestri is the sort of emotionally closed off guy who compartmentalizes so thoroughly he doesn't introduce Wetzon to his mother until they've been practically living together for 5 years.

The one thing I am digging is the way these books are a positive time capsule of a certain Manhattan yuppie milieu of the 1980s, complete with designer labels, hip restaurants, and a time before cell phones. But somehow I don't think that was what I found cool at the time when I too was running around looking for a phone booth.