Diwali Geekery

Indian cinemagoing never died in America the way it did for Hong Kong movies.

Bear with me.

While we lost our last great Chinese-language theater at the turn of the 21st century (The Music Palace), Indian cinema has long since found its way into mainstream multiplexes.  Whether this is through canny booking by distributors or because theater owners realized they could make some real money off of a two week run for NRI audiences, you can now hop on a train to Times Square and catch the biggest Bollywood release of the year, Shahrukh Khan’s Ra.One.

This can only be a good thing, because Ra.One is awesome and should be seen by anyone who loves big, goofy spectacle and inappropriate R and B dance numbers.

For those of you who are unaware of Shahrukh Khan, feast your eyes:

Just try. Just try saying no to this handsome, handsome man.

Or try watching this musical number from his 2006 film Om Shanti Om.

Holy SHIT.  Right?

He is the biggest, most enduring movie star currently working in Hindi cinema, and this is beyond dispute.  While other performers have seen their stock rise and fall, it’s been almost a decade since Khan starred in anything but a smash hit (cameo appearances notwithstanding).  He heads up a production house with its own visual effects wing, picks his collaborators and basically gets to make whatever the hell he feels like making.  This is all the more remarkable for the fact that he is a practicing Muslim who has not been shy about it; hell, his most recent blockbuster was a tearjerker about an autistic Muslim man in post 9/11 America on a journey to tell President Bush that he is, in fact, not a terrorist.  Cloying?  Perhaps.  An easy movie to sell?  Definitely not.  But he made it, and he made it a hit.  There have been protests, threats and even violence around Khan’s work, but the fact remains that he is a beloved movie star the world over.  For all intents and purposes, he’s been India’s pre-couch-jump Tom Cruise for a long time now, and unless he does something really, really fucking stupid, that’s not changing.

Of course, one thing he could do would be to produce the most extravagantly expensive movie in Hindi history, play a double role in it and promote it until even his staunchest fans were begging him to take it easy.

Enter Ra.One, his magnum opus/folie grandeur, released just in time for the festival of Diwali.  Take a look at the trailer.

Hindi cinema has tried for years to break into the global FX blockbuster business with fairly poor results (see, or rather don’t see, Drona, Blue and Love Story 2050).  Khan talked big about trying to break the curse.  This, he said, was the one that would show the world that Bombay could play with the big boys (never mind that the existing audience for Indian film is already in the billions; this was about domination).  Of course, the last film that talked a game like that was Endhiran, a megabudget Tamil sci-fi epic starring a man you may know as Superstar Rajnikanth.  While Endhiran was a massive success by any measure, in America it was thought of as high spirited, culturally impenetrable camp.  In fact, it was only picked up on in the mainstream through the snide, ironic viral popularity of this video, a Russian dub of Endhiran’s climactic action scene:

Endhiran was then acquired by an independent distributor who thought it was just a GAS, a distributor presumably unaware that it had played across America already and made a tidy profit.  Yay for white people!

Anyway, Ra.One.

A full year before its release, promotions began in earnest and since then there have been soft drink tie-ins, video games, mobile apps, an endless stream of Ra.One in every conceivable medium.  Many have called this overkill.  Some have suggested that promotions this enormous can only signal flopsweat, a colossal case of the Emperor’s new clothes.

Having seen Ra.One in a packed, enthusiastic theater, I can tell you this: it’s a doozy.  At over 2 and a half hours, Ra.One manages to stuff an exhausting amount of entertainment value into the most polished package Bollywood has yet offered.  If Khan really thought this would be the one to crack the pan-cultural market, though, he was fooling himself: it is as Bollywood as can be, a loony amalgam of slapstick comedy, syrupy sentiment, musical spectacle, superheroics and lush romance.  If Endhiran bewildered Western audiences, Ra.One will be no less alien, though its values are considerably more accessible (Endhiran featured a genuinely upsetting scene in which a woman whose naked body has been witnessed by a crowd throws herself into oncoming traffic in shame; that she does this is never remarked upon as unreasonable behavior).

It also, however, features this scene, so all is forgiven!

The story of Ra.One is one for the XBox age: superdork Shekhar Subramanium, video game designer and husband to Sonia (the velveteen beauty Kareena Kapoor), decides it is time to do something badass enough to impress his standoffish son Prateek (Armaan Verma).  Egged on by game-head Prateek’s insistence that bad guys are the COOLEST, he designs a video game with the most powerful villain ever conceived, Ra.One.  The bulk of the film deals with Ra.One’s escape from the game environment and subsequent real world battle with Shekhar’s sleek heroic digital doppelganger, G.One.

It’s standard doofus-y whiz-bang action plotting, and the screenplay just ignores more than a few “wait, what?” moments, but no matter.  The damn thing just works.  While the first half is a little spastic in its “MUST PLEASE ALL AUDIENCE QUADRANTS” contortions, the second half tears the roof off of the place.  Director Anubhav Sinha (who has made some okay movies and some dreadful ones) keeps the pace rocketing along with confidence, and the visual elements are beyond reproach, a surprisingly smooth mix of digital and practical effects.  Two scenes in particular stand out: a frankly bonkers fight at a power station where G.One and Ra.One HURL FUCKING CARS AT EACH OTHER and a chase scene in which G.One must outrun and stop a runaway train.  The latter is the scene that most encapsulates the experience of watching Ra.One; it’s big, loud, unstoppable, fast as hell, and ludicrously, breathlessly entertaining.

The film has its very obvious mythic antecedents; Ra.One, spoken with an accent, is a homonym for Ravana, the ten-headed villain of the Ramayana.  And G.One stands in for Jeevan, meaning life.  The film plays with all of this pretty lightly, but it does give us one extraordinary scene of Ra.One strolling into a massive Ramlila and frightening the children away, backed by flames and the ten heads of Ravana.

But what of the big man?  The Shah?  King Khan?  Well, he’s the hardest working man in Bollywood.  He over-eggs the nerdiness as Shekhar, but once G.One is on the scene, Khan gives a graceful, witty, physical performance.  Kapoor, who has little to do in the pre-intermission segment but look stunning, gets to stretch her wings a little in the second half, and her chemistry with Khan is palpable.  These are two old pros just enjoying the hell out of each other, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

Kareena Kapoor looking okay, I guess

The songs are a lot of fun, too, and if they’re a little prone to the chart R and B affectations much of Bollywood has succumbed to (Akon makes an appearance and sings on two tracks), they’re well staged.  The barnstormer is Chammak Challo, in which Kapoor, sari-clad and lushly glamorous, gets to kick out the jams.

Here it is:

The secret ingredient in all of this is conviction.  Ra.One features much talk of goodness, love and heart, and though it’s never more than cliche, it’s un-ironic and sincere.  Khan believes in this picture (he’s even one of the writers), and if you surrender to its sheer immensity, you will, too.  Hail to the King.

Tamil cinema had its own Diwali spectacular this year, and the pitch was so inspired in its lunacy that I simply had to see it on a big screen (Tamil films are a little harder to find than Hindi, and this one was all the way out in Jackson Heights).  7aum Arivu arrives billed as a kung-fu sci-fi romantic thriller, and, well, the least you can say about it is that they weren’t kidding.  As ungainly in its ambitions as Ra.One is laser-focused, 7aum Arivu first caught my notice because it comes from A.R. Murugadoss, whose unofficial remake of Memento, Ghajini, is one of my favorite Bollywood experiences of the last few years (more accurately, it was Murugadoss’s Hindi remake of his own Tamil remake of Memento).  Then there was the trailer, which promised….something.

Many people call all Indian movies “Bollywood,” but this is incorrect.  Bollywood refers only to the Hindi industry, and while it’s the most visible globally, it’s hardly the only game in town.  In 2010 alone, there were releases in 24 different regional languages across India.  Tamil has the second most productive film output in the country, and if anything, it makes fewer concessions to global tastes than Bollywood.  You never forget your first hypercharged taste of it, something most people first got from another viral video of Rajinikanth, one of his signature fight scenes from the film Chandramukhi.

Potent stuff.  And not easily culturally translatable.

7aum Arivu looks at first as though it might buck the trend.  It opens with a long and gorgeous prologue detailing the journey of Bodhidarma to China, where he’s received first as a devil and then, once he’s taught them all of Tamil’s martial arts and medicine, as something like Jesus.  With its painterly cinematography, impactful action (courtesy of veteran Peter Hein), and quietly commanding performance from Suriya, it’s gripping stuff.  So of course it’s followed by about an hour of wacky modern day musical romantic comedy.  This is nothing new for anyone who’s seen a Tamil film, and the romantic track between Suriya and Shruti Hassan (the offspring of Tamil film hero Kamal Hassan) is eminently charming.

Suriya: prettier than his co-star

Summarizing the plot hardly does it justice, but it’s the story of a modern-day descendant of Bodhidarma (this is a twist, but the game is rather given away by casting the same actor in both roles) who must seize his destiny and fight off an attempt by the evil, evil, EEEEEVILLLLL Chinese to dominate and destroy India.  With his kung fu.  And hypnotism skills.

Communism, Broadway musicals....is there nothing China cannot corrupt?

It all sounds like so much more fun than it is, and if there’s less to write about here than there is in the comparatively substance-less Ra.One, it’s because 7aum Arivu, once its thriller track gets moving, deflates with alarming speed.  For every fascinating idea it introduces (the genetic inheritance of certain skills, Tamillian culture and its corporate co-opting), it undermines itself by doing something really stupid (the film’s xenophobia is alarmingly frank, and Hassan quickly turns into a bit of a drip once her true motives are revealed).  Perhaps its biggest crime is that it makes us wait until the last five minutes before our lead revives his inner Bodhidarma and kicks some ass.  The smart call would have been to do this at the intermission point, freeing up the second half to be the epic spiritual smackdown-fest it keeps promising to be.

More of this, please. Not in a gay way or anything. Okay, maybe in a gay way. But with kung fu.

This is not to say it’s devoid of entertainment value of course; that opening is almost worth the price of admission.  Suriya and Hassan have a fair amount of infectious fun together before the plot goes awry.  Johnny Tri Nguyen, the terrific Vietnamese martial arts star, nearly walks away with the film (despite having atrocious dubbed dialogue).  There’s also a setpiece involving an overturned truck, a shit-ton of crashing cars, and dozens of hypnotized attackers that nearly revives the film through its sheer face-blasting insanity.  There’s a lingering feeling of squandered potential, though, and it hangs over fully half of the film.  Murugadoss seems either unwilling or unable to fully engage with his own ideas (and he has to own it; he wrote and directed it solo).

Not to harp on it, but the anti-China sentiment here is often off-putting.  I understand national pride, and lord KNOWS China has its problems, but sending psychotic hypno-spies to Tamil-Nadu to weaken and destroy India with bio-weapons isn’t, so far, one of them.  Ra.One has a Chinese character mysteriously named Akashi, which isn’t so much culturally insensitive as it is…weird.  When one character calls him Jackie Chan, you brace for a bit of the racial burlesque that still mars a lot of Indian cinema, but actor Tom Wu responds with hilarious annoyance.  “Stop calling me Jackie Chan!  Not all Chinese are JACKIE CHAN!”  How very odd that the less serious film would be the more sensitive (bear in mind that Ra.One is also a film with a gay joke and a bunch of nut-shots).

Watching these two films together is a study in the importance of sticking the landing.  It doesn’t matter how rock-the-house terrific your opening is if your film can’t close the deal, and you can get away with a lot of loosey-goosey silliness at the outset if you bring the pain for a big finish.  It’s also a keen reminder that Indian cinema is a game of parts.  While both films are overcrowded and nutty, only one manages to draw its disparate strands together into something remotely coherent.  You can admire the mad ambition of 7aum Arivu or detest the pandering populism of Ra.One as much as you like; one’s an inert hodgepodge, and one’s a thrilling action movie.

Still, over the course of a day, I saw a superhero video game musical and a kung fu sci-fi musical.  To complain almost seems churlish.  These are two hard-working entertainers and if one finally shortfalls, it’s not for lack of trying.  And how wonderful is it that in this age of multiplex dominance, our choices are not limited to Someone Gave Mark Wahlberg a Gun and Adam Sandler Has No Respect For Your Money or Time?

Give me the subtitles and thousands of gaudily clad dancers every time.  Happy Diwali, everybody.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NERDERY: Climactic Edition

It’s hard to describe the joy that accompanies a REALLY FUCKING GOOD episode of Doctor Who.  Have I been shamelessly fanboy gushing for the last couple of weeks?  Certainly.  But here’s the thing: I really do believe that, week for week, Doctor Who is as good a show as television has produced in the last 20 years.  So if there’s a problem with an episode, I’ve got a great big blind spot for it.  I just tend to be thrilled that I’m seeing sci-fi fantasy television on this epic a scale, with this much romance, adventure, humor and smarts.  As I believe I’ve said on more than one occasion, Doctor Who really is the best fucking thing ever.

"Oh, now, YOU."

Occasionally, though, the show will pull off a little something extra, really kick out the jams and let fly.  I have no shame or hesitation in saying that The Wedding of River Song is in the top five New Who episodes ever, and top ten all time Who.  And it’s easily the best season finale of the Davies or Moffat run.  That’s a big claim, but Steven Moffat, that magnificent son of a bitch, has brought us here with two years of planning, given us this after that damnable mid-season break.  It’s left me jumping for joy, ready to watch not only this episode but this whole season again RIGHT NOW.  RIGHT NOW.  Hell, maybe even the previous season, in case I’ve missed something.

Why is it so good?  First of all, no war.  None.  No intergalactic villain co-op, no resurrected classic villain, no Earth left in tatters, but (and this is the clever thing) the stakes are sky-high.  The strength of New Who has always been the way it summons emotion from character, much in the manner of Buffy.  Like Buffy, like all fantasy, it’s at its weakest with some manufactured external threat that we’re told puts EXISTENCE ITSELF in peril.  These shows tend to go astray when they back themselves into a narrative corner that can only be resolved with BIG-ASS ACTION SCENES.  So Moffat keeps it simple, delivering an episode that, despite having more than its fair share of spills and thrills, feels intensely personal.

Second of all, it restores a light/dark balance that has been growing conspicuously lop-sided.  No complaints, but last week’s frothy little jaunt hardly reflected the wrenching tragedy of the weeks prior.  This time, Moffat and director Jeremy Webb hit the vintage Spielberg sweet-spot: an entertainment with a lot on its mind and heart, but one that moves with such pace and wit that all you can do is sit back and marvel and feel.

Third of all…well…everything.

The setting for much of the episode is a typically clever Moffat idea.  Since River has circumvented her destiny of killing the Doctor (a fixed point in time, meaning no-givesies-backsies), time has frozen until the error can be corrected.  It’s easy to imagine ways this might manifest onscreen, but Moffat gives us a goofy, delightful vision where time hasn’t just stopped, it’s crashed and piled up on itself until every period in human history is existing at the same time.  So we have pterodactyls in public parks (“vermin” according to signs), Winston Churchill (played again with a gruff twinkle by Ian MacNeice) serving as the Caesar of the Holy Roman Empire, steam engines that run on elevated tracks to infinity, Charles Dickens on morning chat shows….it’s an Anglophile fantasy nerd’s paradise.  But something’s wrong.  The Doctor needs to die in order for time not to simply stagnate and rot like bad fruit.  And where should we find the Doctor but Churchill’s capitol building, serving as his toga-clad soothsayer.  Churchill, having sussed out that time isn’t meant to work like this, demands answers.

"Answers. AND COGNAC. Blub blub blub."

We’re right there with him.  This season has been packed tight with riddles, puzzles, teasing hints of the bigger picture.  Of course, like Churchill, we’re fools if we expect an answer for everything.  At this point it’s pretty obvious that Moffat is the Doctor, a mad intellect leaping about his junkyard laboratory and pulling lever after lever to see what happens.  The funny thing is, the levers stay pulled, so no matter how many questions Moffat answers, there are always several more on the way.  This would be irritating if the show didn’t offer payoff, but it does.  Big time.

The biggest mystery of all is revealed, of course.  We now know the question, the one that can never be answered, lest Silence fall.  I mean, what a cheat it would be if that one was left dangling.  So, are you ready?  Have you watched the episode?  Because here comes the spoiler….

“Doctor Who?”

Moffat, you magnificent SON OF A BITCH.

It’s a piece of mischief on par with Keyser Soze, an opening-up of limitless narrative possibilities.  Also, it’s delivered by a fat blue head in a box.  Just for kicks.

River Song, naturally, is present and causing trouble.  It’s all her fault, this madness.  She won’t accept her mission, and she’s put out a call to the entire universe for help solving the problem.  In one of the episode’s many touching scenes, she explains that the Doctor needn’t have worried; nearly everyone in existence answered the call.  It’s nice to hear that after a few weeks of the Doctor being painted as history’s greatest monster.

I’ve mentioned other performances in my Who-blogging, but let’s just pause and admire the sexy, funny, devastating Alex Kingston.  She’s superb as River, selling us the one thing we never thought the Doctor would really need: a love interest.  She’s a proper Marion Ravenwood as well, resourceful, cheeky, wise and just a bit dangerous.  Tracing the meaning of her heartache and torment would take a few thousand words, but Kingston conveys it with a glance.  She’s just that good.

And so are her breasts. You may rest assured, if I had a dick pic of Matt Smith, it would be on here. Actually, I should look for one. Excuse me.

As the title makes clear, she gets married.  As you’d expect, it’s to the Doctor.  As you might not expect, at the moment they pledge themselves to each other, she finally does her duty and kills him.

Except she doesn’t.  This isn’t the Doctor, it’s a Tesselector with the Doctor inside, which would seem like a cheat if Moffat hadn’t spent so much time setting it up over the season (it’s reminiscent of the curtain-drop on Amy’s double; Moffat is nothing if not a man obsessed with pet motifs).

And so on we go.  The Doctor is free, time continues as it must, and we’re ready for more, ravenous.  There’s no magic bullet, no Tinkerbell moment as in series 3, no perfect reset for the universe.  As the show ends, the Doctor slips into the shadows, ready to continue his questing underground (does the universe and time itself have an underground?).  This time, though, for the first time ever, he has a family waiting for him.  It’s a family he brought together, a family that made him a better man.  See?  Even with time itself at stake, it all comes down to character.

There’s more, obviously.  The Silence aren’t even totally dealt with by the end.  Amy and Rory turn up, but not how you’d expect, and they both get spectacular bad-ass moments.  There’s a lovely tribute to our dear, departed Brigadier.  Nearly every strand of series continuity is touched on.  It never feels labored, never feels like the overstuffed fan service Davies delivered at his (nevertheless entertaining) worst.

This is a new model Who, sleek but junky, warm but cerebral, intense but fun.  On the evidence of this season and its smashing finale, Moffat could do this forever.  Of course he can’t, but he really does seem like a Timelord sometimes, doesn’t he?

Best fucking…oh, you know the rest.

See you at Christmas, Doctor.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

NERDERY: Yet More Who Blogging

Some questions answered, other questions raised.  That’s more or less par for the course as we approach the end of a season with our favorite Gallifrey ex-pat.  So River is the impossible astronaut.  The Silence have succeeded in their plot against the Doctor.  And, most importantly, we finally discover where the Doctor got his cowboy hat.

"I fucking rule."

What a relief.

For an episode suffused with the dread of a coming cataclysm, Closing Time (written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Steve Hughes) has to be one of the jauntiest, most delightful hours of Who in ages.  For a start, we have the return of James Corden as Craig, last seen in The Lodger.  The Laurel and Hardy act returns, and if anything it’s better written and more beautifully timed than before.

Do not disturb their buddy comedy process. It is made of unicorns.

Corden gives a performance that can comfortably be placed in the post-Pegg-and-Wright genre world.  You know the one I mean.  Starting with Spaced and continuing through each of their collaborations thereafter, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg specialized in placing wry, offbeat character voices within high-stakes genre storytelling (it’s the same thing that has given Who a license to be a little bit more post-modern than ever before).  The laughs never defuse the tension, they actually ramp it up.  It’s a neat trick, and it’s one that Corden has down to a science.  Craig, now a dad, is so exasperated by the demands of living in a science fiction world that his predominant response to things isn’t panic, it’s irritation.  He’s also a devoted, if easily rattled, father whose concern for his newborn son Alfie underscores everything he does.  The lovability factor is through the roof, and Craig’s tenderness drives the episode in more ways than one.

Of course, this is a double act.  And Smith is on fire this week, imbuing the Doctor, who has resigned himself to an imminent death, with a lightness of spirit and spryness of touch that we haven’t seen for a while.  It’s still our Doctor, but perhaps the inevitability of his own demise has lifted a weight rather than crushing him.  Either way, he’s an absolute scream, whether he’s offering children terrible advice about their parents’ money or talking with Craig’s baby.  In a gag that magically manages not to be insufferably cute, the Doctor has an ongoing one-sided conversation with Alfie, who makes it clear that his preferred name is Stormageddon.  Also, Stormageddon issues frequent unflattering evaluations of Craig’s parenting, which the Doctor is happy to share.  Smith plays it with his signature touch of queer, distracted vaudeville and it works.  In fact, his every line, every abstract bit of physical business, works.  It’s funny to reflect that many imagined there was no way to replace David Tennant.

The plot?  Oh, Cybermen want to invade the planet, blah blah, you know the drill.  It’s a perfectly serviceable story, but the real percentage is in the margins.  This was an episode just drenched in good humor, warmth and fun.  After a few weeks of watching the Doctor get deconstructed and broken down, this was just the ticket.  Every moment between Smith and Corden is gold, and they even manage to take what is on the page a fairly standard gay panic joke and make it sweet.  There is much talk of Craig as The Doctor’s “companion,” and they’re often forced into a close embrace.  At one point, The Doctor even tries to misdirect Craig by issuing an unambiguous gay come-on.  Does Craig freak out and start going “EEWWWWW TEH GAYZ”?  No, he does not.  He starts giggling.  And the shopkeeper who is convinced that these men are lovers doesn’t sneer; she smiles and offers discounts.  What a pleasant surprise.  And the “love conquers all” ending is resonant rather than cheesy, a real character moment and not one of the show’s many “YOU WILL CRY NOW BECAUSE IT IS REQUIRED” music-swelling crescendos.  Which I happen to like, but still.

Terrific Amy and Rory cameo, too.  Amy has become a model (or perhaps a perfume magnate, it’s unclear), and the revelation of her scent’s tagline is a bittersweet kick.

See, it’s so easy to just get lost in the details.  It’s easy to forget the darkening picture that’s still being painted.  The Doctor tosses off several mentions of his impending demise, and there’s that coda with River Song.  The image of Melody Pond, stuffed in that spacesuit and waiting in the clear waters of Lake Silencio, is bleak, haunting stuff.  Also, in case you forgot…


"Sorry, was this not supposed to be a heart-crushing nightmare? I'll get my coat."

It’s odd that the penultimate ep of Season 6 would be a standalone story, and a breezy one at that, but I appreciated that Moffat didn’t want to ratchet the pomp up to unbearable levels.  It’s gotten so that in a way I dread the season closers, because I know that every single time, the scale and stakes are going to get blown up to proportions that make last year’s model look positively ordinary.  Not so this year.  The coming confrontation is as personal as it’s ever been, one Timelord’s reckoning with mortality.

Geronimo, old boy.  Let’s see what happens.

P.S. Craig gave him the hat.  He didn’t get it for giving Wyatt Earp dating advice or something fucking stupid like that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NERDERY: More Who Blogging

“I really am just a madman in a box.”

So here it is, and two episodes earlier than I thought it would be. At last, the thesis of Moffat’s run, delivered bluntly and with terrible heartbreak.

Does he mean it? I don’t know. The Doctor is an inscrutable creature, after all, capable of saying almost anything as long as it accomplishes the right end. But I think Moffat means it. Not reductively, of course: a madman in a box is still a wonderful thing and well worth watching on television. But he’s not the Messiah; he’s a very naughty boy.

You cheeky bitch.

How did it come to this? The first half of season six was about the Doctor as a resurrected, unmistakably Messianic figure. Except, of course, that it wasn’t. It’s never so simple with Moffat, who again seems single-mindedly devoted to deconstructing all of the easy comforts that Davies served up for our delectation. Oh, how we feasted on it; I even loved when little Yoda Doctor turned into big powerful Doctor because everyone believes in fairies. Hell, I swallowed the unmitigated guff of the season four finale because I wanted to believe.

"I'm sorry, Donna. But this is not hard sci-fi."

This is an entire episode devoted to tearing that faith down. It doesn’t come on like that, naturally. Writer Toby Whithouse (who gave us the enjoyable but nowhere near as complex Vampires of Venice) has brought us what can reasonably be called The Shining in Space. In a surreally old-fashioned hotel, residents are called to face what seem to be their deepest fears before falling prey to a devouring God figure. The Tardis, which apparently has the worst GPS in the galaxy, plunks down in the middle of the place and the Doctor, as is his way, decides to solve the mystery. Monster of the Week, right?

Yes. And the Monster is the Doctor.


As a title, The God Complex is a vicious fake-out. Most obviously, the minotaur inhabiting the maze is a God figure who demands worship before snuffing out his subjects. Is the Doctor so different? In a sense, he demands submission, obeisance. He tends to defy and humiliate those unimpressed with his genius. Companions can challenge him, but at the end of the day, the Doctor wins on the Doctor’s own terms. Still, even his towering, Aspergers-inflected narcissism has its limits. The “happy” ending here depends on the Doctor convincing Amy Pond that her adventures only have two possible endings: discontinuation or death. And so Whitman and Moffat do the unthinkable: two episodes before a season finale, they dump the Companion.

"What you talkin' bout, Willis?"

Seriously. The Doctor dumps Amy Pond. And poor, sweet Rory (though he does get a bitching car).

Of course, he’s still saving them. By demythologizing himself. Which only makes him more mythic and impressive.


It’s a hell of an episode, styled and shot in a manner that suggests Guillermo del Toro and Tim Burton had sex with Tron. Director Nick Hurran deserves much credit for keeping in continuity and yet layering in some deliciously baroque touches; it’s often hard to tell if the episode’s wide angles are factors of architecture or cinematography. The pace is deliberate but unrelenting, the scares wonderfully effective, and the gallows humor far more gallowsy than usual.

What really deserves examination here is that it’s an episode about the perils of religion. The obvious explanation (this monster feeds on our fears) is finally upended by the realization that the monster is REALLY feeding on faith. The last thing its victims do before dying is embrace the minotaur’s awesome divinity without question. Rory, an atheist, is safe from harm, and the Doctor remains as difficult to categorize as ever (but who or what exactly did he see behind that door…?), but everyone else has a larger philosophy to be preyed on. Paranoia, God, surrender, and in Amy’s case, the infallibility of the Doctor. They aren’t seen as weaknesses per se, but each of these worldviews is red meat for the minotaur. It cannot be a happy chance that the monster preying on these hopes and dreams is a classic false idol. Whitman’s telling us that blind devotion is a trap. It’s a pretty radical thing for a weekly family fantasy series to drop on its viewers, and more proof that Doctor Who is endlessly thematically malleable.

Terrific cast, as it happens. After last week’s 3 character tragedy, this is a proper ensemble piece. Smith is as mischievous and captivatingly intelligent as ever, with able support by the canny, haunted Gillan and the increasingly empowered Darvill. The other captives are played by Amara Karan, Dimitri Leonidas, Daniel Pirrie and comedy star David Walliams. All are good (and Walliams is particularly sharp as a ratty creature from a race of preturnatural cowards), but Karan takes the gold. She’s delightful and a natural match for our hero. The Doctor’s affections are so prized that when he takes an interest in Karan’s Muslim doctor, even the viewer feels jealous. He’s ours, after all.

Except he isn’t. He cannot belong to anyone.

Seriously, did we just lose Amy Pond? The Girl Who Waited? One of the greatest Companions the franchise has ever seen? The “NEXT TIME” teaser indicates that while the Cybermen may return, Amy Pond doesn’t. James Corden, cuddly sidekick of The Tenant, appears to be the big supporting character next week. Are we about to get a male Companion? It wouldn’t be unwelcome given Corden’s chemistry with Smith, but…


This began as a project to just start reviewing Who for fun, but as chance would have it, the series is just starting what appears to be some of its most mature, ambitious movements to date. It’s still dynamite Saturday night entertainment, of course. But Who matters, now more than ever. It’s escapism with a conscience, adventure with consequences.

Best fucking thing ever.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NERDERY: My First Doctor Who Blog

This was meant to be posted Saturday night, but technical difficulties prevented it. From now on, Who blogging will be posted on the night or the next day.


Steven Moffat is clearly a sadist. If there is anything that gives him pleasure, and you can see it in his work with Doctor Who, Sherlock and Jekyll, it’s presenting an audience with a nearly impossible dilemma and not giving them the easy way out. There’s always a price, always a loser, and…well…not always a winner. The blueprint was set in what must be considered one of the classic Who episodes, and the first time most viewers sat up and wondered, “Who on earth WROTE this?”: The Girl in the Fireplace. The blueprint is as follows: Doctor throws himself headlong into an adventure, second party falls desperately in love, Doctor and second party crash headlong into practicalities making said love an impossibility, choice must be made to either do the thing that feels right or the thing that is right. It’s almost evil how effective a formula it is.

"And now you will cry. Yes, let me taste your DELICIOUS TEARS."

In many ways, it’s the anti-Davies. Davies loved setting in motion a thousand-car pile-up of temporal insanity and then resolving it by saying, “Well…he’s the DOCTOR!” What makes Moffat an often-divisive figure among the Who fanbase is that any wish-fulfillment is hard-earned. Look at his portrait of Van Gogh (an underrated episode if ever there was one). Even written by professional fluffer Richard Curtis, the episode ends on a hard truth: want to take Van Gogh into the future and show him how much joy his work brings the masses? Terrific. He’ll still kill himself, but his life will have one more tiny, infinitesimal increment of joy in it. The big finish to Moffat’s first season? A massive, euphoric happy ending tempered only by the knowledge that Rory waited all alone for Amy for thousands of years, and the Doctor was imprisoned in a claustrophobic space-box for the same length of time. Take the win where you can find it, Moffat seems to be saying, and decide if it was worth it.

(By the way, this episode was written by New Who veteran Tom MacCrae, but it is DRIPPING with the Moffat house style)

All of this is by way of saying that the tenth installment of the 6th season, The Girl Who Waited, is one of the most emotionally grueling Who episodes in recent memory, and one of the best. Moffat’s been on a dream run, building an entire season around the twin intricacies of River Song’s origin and the Doctor’s growing reputation as an intergalactic menace. In fact, Moffat may be the first writer to devote this much time to debunking the myth of the Doctor as some charming, shambling intergalactic hobo (despite the lovely shades of Troughton that Matt Smith colors into his portrayal) who brings a bit of sunshine and danger into the lives of his fellow travelers. This season, it’s been made clear: the Doctor has fucked up. A lot. And the cost has never been more apparent. The River Song origin story has tied into this quite neatly. After all, what sort of man is so horrifically dangerous that an alien society breeds a weapon to get rid of him?


All of this makes it sound like this episode is not also packed with AWESOMENESS, which it most assuredly is.

Let’s back up.

The story: the Doctor takes Rory and Amy to the planet Apalapucia, one of the top tourist attractions in the universe (not the top one, the Doctor explains, because “everyone goes there”), only to find that the Tardis has landed in a “kindness facility” designed to quarantine and treat victims of the Chen 7 virus. Amy is separated from the group and, having been mistaken for a virus victim, placed in an alternate, and much accelerated, timestream. She grows old in a matter of minutes. The rest of the episode is about Rory and the Doctor attempting to rescue her.

Except that it’s really about so much more. Amy, by the time Rory and the Doctor find her, has spent nearly 40 years as the only sentient being in a facility full of robots who unwittingly try to murder her with alien vaccines her body won’t accept. She’s old, she’s tired and she’s bitter. For the first time, she truly hates the Doctor.

And you know what? Maybe she ought to hate him. Amy’s first exposure to everyone’s favorite Time Lord was based on a betrayal: he dangled the promise of adventure right in front of her eyes and then vanished for years. This time, however unintentionally, the Doctor has left her out to dry in the worst way possible. Her youth has been drained away, her sense of adventure hardened into a grim survivalism. The Doctor, through his capricious noodling, has essentially killed Amy Pond.

Of course there’s a way out. Through the usual “timey-wimey” thingamajigging, it is possible to rescue young Amy and thus erase old Amy. Old Amy, however, may have survived too long to submit to that very easily.

Okay, this is complicated.

If there’s a star this week, it’s not Matt Smith, who spends most of the show in his own little bottle episode entitled I Fucked Up, trying to fix his errors from inside the Tardis. Nor is it Karen Gillan, who gives her usual sterling performance and ages herself smartly. No, this week belonged to Arthur Darvill. Rory has, over the course of the Moffat run, established himself as one of the first “boyfriend companions” to not immediately make me break out in hives from irritation. Starting off as a bit of a drippy smart-alec, Rory has revealed himself to be a courageous, intelligent and challenging match for Amy. In other words, a totally reasonable alternative to the Doctor. I never spent hours wondering if Rose would ditch her kick-ass adventures around space and time to settle down with poor, butt-hurt Mickey. Even Davies seemed to know that, eventually finding an excuse to make Mickey bad-ass, by which point we’d all forgotten about him anyway. No, Rory is key to the success of the current series, and Darvill’s been given a lot to play in this episode.

He rises to the occasion, to say the least. Darvill’s usual “JESUS CHRIST WHAT HAVE YOU DONE” panic plays beautifully as he searches for young Amy, but when he finds old Amy, it turns into something else. We see that he would take old Amy if he had to, but when the great big honking Sophie’s Choice at the heart of the episode shows up, Darvill’s performance goes from sweet to heart-rending. The climactic minutes of The Girl Who Waited are almost impossibly moving, and it’s all down to Darvill. He’s earned his spot in the opening credits, no mistake.

Just one of the many faces of Arthur Darvill


And it really would be, but the episode is packed tight with just the sort of nimble thrills that Who delivers at its best. It’s lightspeed storytelling, throwing loops and curves at regular intervals, and steeped in the kind of talk-as-action that makes me think Moffat may actually be the science-fiction Aaron Sorkin. But it’s not all wordplay and puzzle-cracking. Amy Pond gets a sword. Think about that for a second. Ever thought it might be fun to watch Amy Pond slice through a battalion of robots with a samurai sword? Turns out you were right. Another sweet little kick: Imelda Staunton is the pleasantly unhelpful voice of the facility. Apparently Umbridge has found work in alien healthcare.


The design may also be a new high for Who. The sterile, blindingly white facility and the vast alien topiary are lushly envisioned. For action, pace and visuals, director Nick Hurran deserves top marks. This is spectacularly confident television.

It all comes back to this, however: how long can this last? There’s no real comfort in the closing lines of The Girl Who Waited. The Doctor is still on the run. Amy’s been to hell and back several times over. Rory has displayed more patience than any boyfriend in the history of the world. There’s a reckoning coming, and one more clearly defined than any threat in the post-Davies era. Is the Doctor going to have to pay? And how dearly?

Of course he’ll make it through. Just. But there will be a price.

Doctor Who really is the best fucking thing ever.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Naked Killer (1992) – A Tribute to the Greatest Movie Ever Made


I don't know why they didn't lead with the scene where everyone drinks tea. I guess they thought this would sell tickets. Whatever.

If the advertising campaign for The King’s Speech has taught us anything, it has taught us this: Some movies you see.  Others, you feel.

Still others have lesbian assassins, dick-eating and exploding hats.  Such a film is Naked Killer.

I don’t fit a very coherent profile when it comes to my tastes in film.  I love American summer blockbusters.  I love movies where French people brood about banging each other.  I love Indian musicals.  I fucking love Kung Fu movies.  Basically, I don’t care where your movie’s from or what it’s about as long as it puts me in that special, heightened place, that ecstatic hysteria of movie love.  It’s what I long for every time the lights dim in a theater (still a magical moment for me), every time I pop in a DVD of some unseen chestnut, every time I take advantage of the unholy pleasures of Netflix instant.  Take me there, make me giggle with the joy of discovery and awe, and I’ll be yours forever.  Raiders of the Lost Ark does that for me.  The Blues BrothersSholay. Om Shanti OmThe Third ManA Clockwork OrangeDuck Soup. Fist of Legend.  Crippled Avengers. All but two or three Terry Gilliam films.

Basically, I love loving movies.  I’m not an easy lay, but if I’m sitting down to watch your movie, I want to like it.  This dewy-eyed optimism can lead to surprising delight in a well-turned B picture (The A-Team) or angry disappointment with a work that has LITERALLY EVERYTHING IN IT THAT I SHOULD LIKE but still sucks (Nine).  Being a real movie lover makes every excursion a gamble, because it means I have a stake in the experience beyond getting my money’s worth.  I want my love’s worth.

The makers of Naked Killer (Producer/writer/prolific sleaze-genius Wong Jing and director Clarence Fok Yiu-leung) know what my love is worth.  Separately, they have made terrible, terrible films.  Together, they made this.  And it is one of the few genre pictures that takes a genuinely junky premise (hot chick assassins) and actually DOES something with it, never letting any single sequence be a mere functional progression of the plot when it can also be a hothouse of stylish filth.  It’s so cracked-out and vivid, and so in love with the kind of gratification movies alone provide, that there can be only one assessment:

Naked Killer is objectively the greatest movie ever made.

It’s a movie so great that Wong Jing, knowing he’d capped his career, more or less remade it in 2002 and called it Naked Weapon.  Accept no substitutes, however – this is the real deal, an honest-to-god exploitation treasure from Hong Kong cinema’s golden age.

Exhibit A – the trailer:

The greatness of that trailer is twofold:

1. The torrent of insane shit flashes by so quickly that you can’t really process it.  In what context does any of what you just saw make realistic sense?

2. Those aren’t even the best parts.

To summarize: Kitty (the unspeakably hot Chingmy Yau) is one angry girl, given to acts of horrifying violence if a man doesn’t meet her standards, though in fairness, most of the men in this film are idiots or rapists or both.  Her main tactic?  The kicking, shooting or stabbing of balls.

"Meow, bitches."

Tinam (Simon Yam, endearingly goofy in his pre-supercool years) is  your garden variety STREETWISE COP ON THE EDGE.  He’s also suffering from a serious, ahem, gun problem.  After accidentally killing his brother, even touching his weapon causes him to vomit.  He’s frustrated.  Emasculated.  Impotent.  Yes, Tinam certainly is neurotic about his gun.

Also, he has trouble getting it up.  V’OH!

This was the only available shot of Simon Yam from this movie. He's drinking milk in the bath. So...yeah.

Anyway, he falls for Kitty, who teaches him how to love (and get an erection) again.

And all it took was boobs. Magnificent, magnificent boobs.

Yes, Tinam, and the audience, are smitten with this testicle-destroying beauty.  But when Kitty falls afoul of the particularly rapey idiot responsible for the death of her saintly father, she is rescued by the mysterious Sister Cindy (MILFy Wai Yiu, or as I like to call her, “Why, you…!”), goes into seclusion, and begins her new life as a contract killer.  Sister Cindy trains her in the twin arts of combat and dykistry.

Just ladies, doing lady things.

Simple, you scoff?  I only wish it were!  It turns out that life is anything BUT simple for a hot chick assassin.  For one thing, the clothes are insane.




For another, sexy contract killing is a free market proposition, meaning competition is STIFF.  Enter evil psycho-lesbians Princess (Carrie Ng) and Baby (Madoka Sugawara).

Just a couple of lesbo assassins chillin' down after a long day.

Suffice it to say, things get moist.


And deadly.

But still also moist.

I promise you, I’ve spoiled nothing in explaining all of this.  The narrative doesn’t connect all of these dots in predictable ways, so the broad outline is pretty unrevealing.  The sweet/twisted story of Kitty and her father, for instance, is one of the film’s berserk highlights.  And even if you know the story going in, nothing can prepare you for the preposterous details that Wong and Fok employ in the telling.  The lush, weird production design, all miles of drapery and massive pillars, like something dreamed up by a gay giant; Peter Pau’s agile, popgasmically colorful cinematography (he would win an Oscar nine years later for his handsome, stately work shooting Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon); the performances, every one pitched somewhere between lurid camp and actionable psychosis; the coke-addled momentum of the thing, always threatening to overheat before…YES, it totally does.  And then it keeps going.

Naked Killer is also fertile ground for analysis.  Tinam’s impotence is a revealing plot device.  He dresses stylishly (at least that’s the idea) and swaggers into every scene like King Shit, but the moment he has to take action, he literally throws up.  And when his physical impotence is cured by Kitty, he’s still a hapless stooge, constantly mocked, fooled and pushed around by his dream woman.  In a world where every man is a slobbering sex criminal, we’re asked to root for someone who’s comically weak.  Can this really be the audience surrogate?  If it’s a film designed to cater to horny boys (and it definitely is), what the hell are the makers trying to say?  Could this be a trenchant, if unintended, critique of the main audience for films like this?  Of course, Tinam comes around for the climax (ahem) but until then it’s amazing how pathetically the filmmakers portray their traditional point of audience penetration (cough).

Maybe that’s because, in a break with tradition, our sympathies are meant to rest with the female lead.  Sure, she’s a castrating bitch (literally, she’s very irritable and she castrates people), but hers is the real journey of the film, from an angry woman betrayed by men to a superbadass assassin who has tasted Sapphic pleasures.  The film insists that the main love story is between Kitty and Tinam, but it’s obvious what the real romance is here: Kitty and Sister Cindy share the movie’s most legitimately sexy moments, and Yau and Wai seem genuinely turned on by each other.  The heterosexual trysts in the film are hilariously awkward, but in every moment of breathless nearness and fondling between the women, the entire film seems to shudder.  Sure, it’s exploitation, but the joy of much exploitation is the story it doesn’t MEAN to tell.  Wong Jing can throw in as many scenes of tortured yearning between Yam and Yau as he likes, but no dice.

Feel the strangely muted heat.

It’s hard to call the film feminist when it spends so much time leering at its scantily-clad (though rarely naked) subjects, but JESUS if the women don’t come out ahead of the men.  The women go on international missions, play dangerous games, employ subterfuge and pursue passionate affairs.  The men (well, the ones who aren’t rapists, and I’m serious, there are a BUNCH of rapists in this movie) stumble around trying to figure out what the fuck just happened.  It’s also refreshing how much blood-soaked justice is meted out to its male offenders, and how Wong and Fok pull no punches in hitting them where it hurts.  If you have testicles, expect to spend a lot of time cradling them in the watching of this film.

Of course, the main reason to watch is that this is a rare genre piece that is all killer, no filler.  You will see martial arts, exploding bodies, gunfights that destroy beautiful sets that a gay giant worked very hard to design, lesbian love, wild stunts, and, yes, a guy actually eating a dick.

So many genre movies start and stop at the premise stage, assuming that once they’ve hooked you, their job is done.  They go about their cynical business with a dispiriting joylessness, treating the actual making of exploitation cinema like a bothersome formality.  Not Naked Killer.  It’s different.  It’s a keeper.  Every chaotic, stupid, compelling, thrilling, heedless minute of it is dedicated to mining its premise and finally transcending it.  Unlike most films of its ilk, it’s not a “meh” deal that’s littered with highlights.  There are maybe five minutes in total of Naked Killer that are not working overtime to show you something you have never seen before, or at least never with such batshit energy.

In short, it’s the greatest movie ever made.  Watch it with someone you love.  Be lesbians together.



Bastard Keith

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

As the World Spirals Into Chaos, I Go to the Theatre

First of all: few things are as spectacularly wonderful as going to a fancy event with a dirty secret, and heading out to Broadway’s utterly gorgeous Cort Theatre, massive red velvet curtain, beautifully painted ceiling, opera boxes and all, was easily fancy enough to make the Birdlocked under my clothes feel thrillingly illicit.  Rosebud was in high style, looking as lushly sexy as I’d ever seen her, and to be under lock and key among the swells was BONER FUEL.

Like this. But the rocket is a penis, and the fire is...I don't know what the fire is.

But enough about me getting off on  cheap, sick thrills.  On to me getting off on politics!


"I rim for votes." James Buchanan, you fucking scamp.

It seems fitting that in the days leading up to a possible government shutdown (which may or may not be solved by the time I finish writing this article) I found myself in a position to attend the new Broadway production of Garson Kanin’s priceless 1946 comedy Born Yesterday.  It’s a favorite of mine, with a classic screwball premise: Harry Brock (James Belushi), a rich, bullying New Jersey scrap merchant, arrives in Washington with his drunk, dim-bulb moll, Billie Dawn (Nina Arianda), in tow.  Brock’s there to buy out a senator who will push massive deregulation, allowing him to do deals in a Europe that’s still in tatters from WW2.  Billie, though, proves a roadblock: she’s crass, loud and very hard to control.  Her social ineptitude so worries Brock that he hires a highbrow journalist, Paul Verrall (Robert Sean Leonard), to educate her.  A little knowledge, as everyone knows, is a dangerous thing, and Billie’s education drags Brock’s life into chaos as she begins to understand (and question) democracy, money and power.  She’s also beginning to take a liking to Verrall, a dangerous proposition when you’re on Harry Brock’s arm.

It’s simple, diagrammatic and perfectly turned by Kanin, whose knack for finding poetry in the inarticulate is second to none.  Doug Hughes’ handsome, well-mounted production is  still in previews, so I can’t say too much about it, nor about my connection to it, so I’ll keep this part brief: it’s old-fashioned in the best way, and if it doesn’t make a star out of the sexy, funny, utterly beguiling Arianda, I’ll be shocked.  The other two leads are great value as well, Leonard charming and dry, and Belushi a bit of a revelation.  On the evidence of this, I’ll have to take him off of the “Jesus God In No Possible World Will I Ever Watch Something With This Toolbag In It” list.  He’s fucking GOOD.

If you desire him, render his mating cry: "Beluuuuuuuuuuuuuush!"

The reasons the play resonated with me so much, especially watching it at this point in history, are manifold.  First of all, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about feminism, as readers will know.  Born Yesterday is, despite its antiquity, pretty fucking strong as a proto-feminist piece: initially seen as a piece of arm candy and kind of a moron, Billie Dawn reveals hidden depths and a canny intellect.  Admittedly, this is under the tutelage of a man, but Billie is the engine that drives the second half of the play, her machinations and desires proving stronger than Brock’s endless fortune.  A kept woman, she finally decides who she wants to be with and what she wants to do.  Kanin gives Billie dialogue about as funny as anything ever put to paper, and Arianda nails every laugh down to the commas, but what this production and performance really put into stark relief for me is the way that a repressive male system strangles female liberation by force and deprivation.  Billie is constantly sent to her room, insulted to her face, even slapped (a moment that may not have played as heavily on its debut, but REALLY put the shits up the audience at the Cort), but she glides through it all, drunk and switched off.  She’s numb to the indignity of it all, accepting that her place is on a powerful man’s arm.  What other opportunities are there for a former chorine?  She has fits of rebellion (stubbornness, flirtation, and an almost terrifying aptitude for beating Harry at cards), but they’re only taken seriously inasmuch as they endanger Harry’s Washington business.  She’s treated as a device for sex and not much else, and she’s not questioning her role, really.

The beautiful irony is that Verrall’s education of Billie, initially part of a plan to make her more acceptable and compliant, shakes her awake.  It’s largely against her will.  But once she begins to read, think, research, it becomes clear to her: she has a place in this world that demands active participation.  She takes to it with a vengeance, and the conclusion is a gratifying example of a female hero having her cake and eating it, too.  Billie may be running off with Verrall at the end, but he’s a man of quality who doesn’t take her for granted.  She wins because she realizes she’s worth a damn, and she really is.  It’s a Kanin special, a unique mix of cynicism and wide-eyed hope.

This extends to the politics of the thing, which is the other big reason I was so smitten.  It’s a transparently liberal play, political in broad strokes, but it’s almost unnerving how relevant it is now.  This may be due to the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same (Bob Roberts has a similarly eerie resonance), but it’s still surprising when a 65 year-old play talks about the dangers of deregulation.  Kanin’s play, hilarious and fleet on the surface, finally blossoms into full-blown outrage when the extent of Brock’s disregard for process and civility is revealed.  The play near-explodes with its keening love for real, functional democracy.  Kanin wants to show the beauty of the system: that every vote counts, that the government really is US, and if we get involved, we can affect positive change.  I’ve always believed this, and I also think that the only reason the Tea Party is running so hurtfully amok in Washington is because they got involved, loudly.


"Lower my taxes, don't give healthcare to the poor, and GET ME MY FUCKING SNUGGLEBEAR!"

It’s a heartening message in any case, all the more poignant as partisan ideology brings us to the brink of government just….stopping.  As of writing, the one thing holding up budget negotiations is the Republicans’ insistence that all federal funding to Planned Parenthood be immediately yanked.  Seriously.  That’s it.  Thousands of seniors will go without hot meals.  Military payroll will freeze.  It will hurt America in so many hundreds of ways if this shutdown is effected, and I want everyone reading this to remember one thing: if it happens, it’s because there are rich assholes in Washington who want to erase, little by little, every piece of progressive legislation going back to the New Deal.  They want women to sit down and shut up.  They want gays to stay second class citizens.  They want corporations to run your healthcare.  They want you to think that you’re powerless.

Don’t buy it.  Make like Billie Dawn.  Read up, get informed and get moving.  ASK QUESTIONS.  In Wisconsin, recall elections are happening in the wake of a ghastly piece of Republican anti-union legislation.  I’d be willing to bet that an awful lot of voters don’t even know that they have the power to recall.  Millions are standing up for Planned Parenthood, for NPR, for all of the tiny little bricks that the GOP want to chip out of the wall.  Stand up with them.

The Tea Partiers have this abstract notion of “spending.”  It’s bad, it’s wrong, we want LESS of it. How many have really contemplated how their lives are affected by that spending?  No EPA?  Great!  No Department of Education?  Fine!  Social Security? Privatize it!  Medicare, Medicaid?  Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.  No more Planned Parenthood.  How DARE my tax dollars be spent on ABORTIONS?

Except that the EPA is acting to save our environment, which, contrary to what you may have heard, is affected by pollution.  The Department of Ed is working to genuinely improve conditions for our country’s students.  Every available model says that privatizing Social Security would be calamitous.  Medicare and Medicaid help so many older or impaired citizens that cutting to the extent that the GOP are demanding would be inhumane.  And Planned Parenthood?  Whether you like abortions or not, they also do breast exams, pap smears, GENERAL WOMEN’S HEALTH.

This shit is important.

Make cuts, absolutely.  We need to tighten the national belt.  But if you want government revenue to bump up, stop giving tax cuts to the wealthy.  Like Harry Brock, the millionaires and billionaires of this country have proven that if you give them enough rope, they’ll hang YOU.  It isn’t trickling down.  There aren’t more domestic jobs being created.  Fuck it, look at the MATH.


It was awfully nice to come out of a classic play so fired up.

And in the last few minutes, it seems a deal has been struck to continue funding (at least temporarily) our government.  The Planned Parenthood rider will be up for a vote on the Senate floor, where it will, rest assured, die.  As will the rider defunding health care reform.

The good guys may not always win, but the bad guys don’t always get what they want.

This is a country full of Billie Dawns, male and female, intellects just waiting to be switched on and fired up.

Many of them are super-foxy blondes. TRUE.

Get involved.



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My Adventures in the World of Women: Being a Feminist Smut Peddler

I know, excitement!  A man writing about feminism!  Another genius gazing down into his endless navel from the perch of male privilege.


"Hey, thumbs up, fucker!"

But here’s the thing.  Men need to think about what it is to be genuinely pro-woman.  Not think more, but think at all.  Because right now the earth is opening up right under our feet, all of us, and we face a choice.  A regressive, repressive white male Taliban is trying to legislate women back into the kitchen and the maternity ward for good.  Opposing them, the rest of us, those who feel that a woman’s body is hers to do with as she pleases.  This goes beyond pro-choice/pro-life.

"Trust us with your ovaries."

Side note: The terms that have come to define the differing sides of the abortion debate are FUCKING STUPID.  Pro-life?  “Sure, you could be for abortion, but that would make you ANTI-LIFE, wouldn’t it?  What?  You don’t like life?”  What about the life of the woman in question?  Why does the consideration of a fetus, which has no conscious sense of being, carry more weight than the medical/existential situation of the woman carrying it?  And if women HAVE to carry the baby to term, what’s the plan for giving care if the woman can’t actually provide it herself?  Oh, that’s right.  To the religious right, life begins at conception and ends at birth.  After that, the little fucks are on their own.  Pro-life my ass.

Where was I?  Right.  With the proliferation of recent anti-choice legislation (including but not limited to the bill that would have redefined rape as either “rape” or the more rapey variety of actual rape), battle-lines have been drawn.  But that’s only partially what this is about.  Plenty of ink has been spilled on the Tea Party’s delightfully relentless assault on the dignity of America’s women.  I’m not here with another diatribe to provoke scores of chin-scratching lefties into nodding thoughtfully and saying, “So true.”  I probably don’t have much new to say on the matter.  Here’s where I’m going with this:

My life has recently been a fertile space for the consideration of what feminism means from a male perspective.  Being married to Rosebud, a dominant female-bodied queer person hasn’t muddied the issue; rather, it has only clarified my feelings.  There has been much discussion in this house of privilege and what constitutes privilege.  Learning submission, at its most basic level, is about a rejection of the very idea of privilege.  The funny thing about privilege, though, is how invisible it is to the privileged.  I don’t kid myself that I’m somehow a member of the underclass; as a white male, I’m pretty much guaranteed a seat at the table (even if Jews have always had to be more self-deprecating and receptive to insult in order to gain that seat).  A recent conversation with Rosebud shed some light on the matter.

We had a discussion after which I was CONVINCED that somehow she had obscured her feelings from me.  I asked questions, she got frustrated, I asked more questions, and she finally expressed her frustration that I was focusing so much on understanding her actions as opposed to respecting them.  And I got it: I’m not OWED anything.  And that includes an understanding, or even, really, an explanation.  Now, this may not be the case in many vanilla relationships, but it was a useful lesson in what I’ve come to expect: that everything has to make sense to ME, through the prism of MY experience.

It sort of blew my mind, even if to the reader it might seem a bit trivial.

Anyway, I got thinking.  I’ve always considered myself a feminist.  Supporting a woman’s right to choose, her right to say no to sex, her right to equal pay for equal work, her position as a head of a household, her freedom to do LITERALLY WHATEVER SHE DAMN WELL PLEASES within the limits of legality.  I’ve also always understood that the system was rigged against her, and as such needed reform.  I read scores of books in high school, works by Gloria Steinem, Camille Paglia, bell hooks.

The point is: I TOTALLY GOT IT.

Except, of course, I didn’t.

I’ve done stupid things in my life.  I’ve made comments that could be seen as sexist.  I’ve made poor, insensitive word choices.  I’ve acted comfortably in a patriarchal system without really thinking about what I was doing.

I had immense resentment with my mother for several years, not really stopping to think that she basically had one of the hardest jobs of all time: being the woman of a house with her husband and three sons.  These days, understanding her gifts to me and my brothers, her wisdom and her sacrifice (this is a woman who gave up smoking and a globe-trotting lifestyle to raise three kids, four if you count my father, which he probably would), I cherish every moment I’m lucky enough to spend in her presence.  She carved out her own identity before, during and after our births.  She worked jobs, some well-paying, some not so.  She’s contributed in time, work and money to the AIDS crisis in South Africa, and educated me in it, and continues to do so.  She is an amazing person.  I may have been an impossible shit to raise, but I like to think I’m doing a little better at being her son these days.  Rosebud makes sure of that.

Rosebud telepathically commanding me to stop being a huge idiot.

I also reflect on my mother’s mother, who raised more than twice as many kids, most of them fiercely battling girls.  I think about the time I quoted some blowhard comedy character to Grandmother, just because I thought it was a smartass thing to say, and her response: “That’s very macho of you.  And I don’t like it.”  At the time I was butt-hurt, but now I just think that’s fucking awesome.

I’ve been surrounded my whole life by strong women, and most of them I’ve not really thanked for the privilege.  I just took it as read that there were, like, these WOMEN everywhere.  Like trees.  Trees with boobs.  And no one really pays that much attention to trees.  Well, hippies.

Like women, treeboobs are everywhere.

And now here I am, a burlesque host, a friend, nay, a member of the alt-porn community, basically for all intents and purposes a sex worker, a worker in a field that is predominantly female.  I mean, shit, man, empathize or die.  But this again raises questions: there are those who say that sex work, whether it be in porn, burlesque or prostitution, cannot be pro-woman.  From my own limited perspective, I’d call horseshit on that.  The women in these sectors have been the strongest, smartest, most extraordinary people I’ve ever met. I’ve been a friend, a lover, a pupil to these women.  Not all of them, obviously.  There are only so many hours in the day, and I’m not 18 anymore.  The point is, it’s the first time I’ve ever had to justify my presence anywhere.

This was probably the key to my dawning sense of gender actuality.  Rosebud, who has had some terrible experiences with men, told me, “Every man is a potential rapist.  You won’t ever understand what it is to know that.”  And she’s right.  The burden of proof will always be on me.  This isn’t unfair, it’s just a fact.  And I’ve had to do serious thinking about what the point of Bastard Keith is in these settings.

Backstage with a bunch of changing burlesque performers, I’m the one with the immediate potential to be an asshole.  This is their safe place.  Not mine.  I’m usually the one offering to get water for the room, to make sure everything’s running okay out on the floor.  That attitude stretches to the stage.  I’ve seen hosts who make fun of the performers, who make shitty, condescending, belittling, macho remarks that re-orient the show to be about THEM and not the women and men who are doing the real work of the night.  I can’t do that.  I’m in love with these performers, and I need the audience to feel that love, to be respectful of their art and their boundaries.  If they aren’t safe, the show isn’t fun.


That’s what I didn’t get for so many years.  My entire notion of feminism was processed through this idea that I was a card-carrying pro-woman liberal guy.  It’s only recently, as a sex worker, as an MC, as a submissive man, that I’ve learned about the negation of the philosophical male self.  When I take my maleness out of an equation, I can see it more clearly.  I’m not that great at it.  I’m still trying.

Another side note: It’s one reason that so much porn leaves me cold.  Well, there are a couple of reasons.  One is that, honestly, just watching people fuck is kind of dull.  I see myself and Rosebud fuck all the time (though less so in our current chastity experiment).  It’s not the fucking, but the TENSION that does it for me.  It’s why so much of the kink.com material, while undeniably well-produced, is just brutally exhausting to me.  The other reason, the one I was talking about, is that, while I respect the agency of the women involved in making it, this porn, like so much, is shot through the undeniable filter of the male gaze.  That saps it of pleasure for me.  For some wonderful, female-oriented Femdom porn, check out femmefatalefilms.com.  It’s decently produced and the product of Eleise De Lacy’s sensibility and vision.  It’s also as hot as hell, the first porn I’ve enjoyed watching with someone (Rosebud is in love with Mistress Eleise).

A frosty Nordic blonde in a business meeting.

It’s my job, as a husband, as a sub, as a male sex worker, as an artist, to get over myself.  If you’re a man reading this, I’m not saying to put women on a pedestal.  I’m saying to see them without YOU.  Just try.  That’s the gateway to beginning to understand being a pro-woman male.

No revolution succeeds that is without a sexual revolution.  To loop this ramble back to where we began, the reason so many men fight against women having reproductive rights isn’t because they’re evil.  It’s because they’re threatened when a woman lives a life that doesn’t revolve around reproductive sex and domestic service.  A life, in short, lived for a woman and not for a man.

I’m a smut peddler who loves women.

Keep trying to lose yourself.


Bastard Keith

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Really, Guy?, Volume 2

And now for Volume 2 of Really, Guy?, my weekly column of utter disbelief.  This week we’ll be featuring the words of Glenn Beck.  If you don’t know his work, he’s a fat, sexless scrote-elf who yammers about Socialism (he’s against it), Communism (does not like it), Progressives (basically Nazis), God (the only real answer), America (GR8ST CUNTRY IN THE WURLD EVR) and gold (I still don’t really get his hard-on for gold) for a credulous audience of millions.

He’s also one of those hardcore conservatives who thinks that the merest criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic and un-American.  Speaking as someone who was raised Jewish, the difference between Judaism and Zionism needs to be better articulated; I think the Jews deserve Israel, and I think the Palestinians are getting roundly fucked by the Israelis.

Today, however, he’s upset about the US aiding rebels in the Libya.  Because that’s an affront to Israel, apparently.  Watch:

I’ll just give you about a half hour to parse that, since, if you’ve never been lucky enough to experience the incoherent gurglings of Baby Beck, it can be a bewildering listen.

I, personally, do not have a coherent opinion on Libya.  Like many people, I think that Gaddafi is a tyrant, that the Libyan opposition is in the right, and that without assistance the rebels will get the dogshit kicked out of them.  On the other hand, like most liberals, I am VERY reluctant to cheer on another military intervention in the Middle East.  No one wants another Rwanda.  No one wants another Afghanistan.

Especially not Hot Fetish Blonde.

"I do NOT want another Rwanda, or another Afghanistan. Is that clear, bitch?"

Like I said.

I think the wave of insurgencies across the Middle East is an encouraging sign that a region stuck between the distant past and the problematic present is finally looking to modernize.  Basically, all that shit we’ve been trying to do in Iraq?  Sisters are doing it for themselves.

Quick sidenote: Women are still treated like shit in much of the Middle East.  I was referring to the rebels as sisters because it amused me to do so, and because it sounded a little gay.  Gayness + Middle Eastern Insurgency = Comedy Gold.  Except that they treat gays like shit, too.  Maybe I’ll go back and edit that, but probably not.  You just read all this!  Have a sandwich, fucko!

What Beck is saying is that we’re empowering the enemies of Israel, that the merest attempt to halt the massacre of a few thousand Libyans by an oppressive regime is spitting in the face of our greatest ally in the region.

This seems to me a colossal act of point-missing.  Is it not possible that with democracy replacing tyranny there will be, as so many rap-type artists have begged, “Peace in the Middle East?”  That perhaps the anti-Semitism of so many countries in the region might be a little eased when their leaders don’t pump “Jews are responsible for all of your troubles” into the state press every day?

I mean, fuck it, who knows, it might be a total disaster, and once new governments have been implemented there might be a decision to REALLY stir shit up.  We just don’t know.  But isn’t a world without a Mubarak or a Gaddafi or an Ahmadinejad in power automatically a better place?

And look, not to dissect the ramblings of a retarded goat-boy or anything, but is it really fair to say that to support Libyan rebels is somehow anti-Israeli?  That’s like saying saving a racist from being hit by a truck makes you a Klansman.  Israel may be many things, but it is not an unambiguous force for good.  America’s conservative hard-on for Israel (which, by the way, derives not from liking Jews but largely from the evangelical Christian belief that Israel will play a pivotal role in the Second Coming) is what’s stopping our center-right government from taking an adult tone regarding their treatment of Palestine.

I’ll say it clearly so that no bloated, paranoid shit-monkey accuses me of calling Israel evil: Israel is a functional Middle-Eastern democracy that has done great things, given a home to a homeless people and should exist forever.  And it wouldn’t kill them to give a little ground to the Palestinians.  Hell, it might show the rest of the Middle East that Israel isn’t the root of all evil.  Sweet, cuddly Israel.

"Here, Palestine. I brought you a kitten and some settlements."

But no, Glenn Beck thinks that stopping the death of thousands means we’re turning our back on Israel.  He thinks that because he’s a simpleton, and he says it on air because he thinks that Real America is made up of simpletons, too.

Fuck you, Glenn Beck.  And I leave you with our Really, Guy? mascot to play us off.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

So I had this amazingly stupid idea that was also AMAZINGLY AMAZING

Obviously practical; thanks, Victorians!

Thus begins a new chapter in the ongoing saga of savage weirdness and perversion that is my life.  I, Bastard Keith, am submitting to a period, yet undefined, of chastity, to be supervised by my beloved wife and keeper, Madame Rosebud.  It took me considerable thought to actually post about this before I realized that most people who know me know that this is exactly the sort of thing I would do.  Testing the waters, I made a twitter remark referring to my situation that I thought was rather cryptic.  I was then barraged with responses along the lines of, “So your johnson’s locked up, huh?”

Apparently I am not as subtle about my fetishes as I like to imagine.

So, why chastity?  Apart from getting to wear something WAY FUCKING STYLING?

This is made from the same material as Wolverine's exoskeleton. Okay, Adamantium. That's what it's called. Shut up, nerd.

Well, a couple of reasons.  First of all, confinement is hot.  It’s just way fucking ridiculously hot to be confined by your lover.  I’ve experimented with various other forms of bondage (does it really count as an experiment, though, if the only conclusion you draw is that it spikes your jock?), but this one seemed to me the most primal, the most basic.  Is there any form of control more intimate and more direct than control over your actual sexual organs?  If you like being tied up, disempowered, divested of control, is there anything else quite so elegant and effective and illustrative?
Second of all, I’ve fantasized about it forever.  Simple as that.  The notion of a beautiful woman holding the key to my sexual freedom is just pure porn.
Third of all, honestly, I’ve been struggling with how best to focus and direct my submissive energies.  Rosebud and I only came to this arrangement relatively late in our relationship, despite knowing of and sharing these urges.  I’m turning 32 this year, and I was genuinely worried that I’d entered the Old Dog phase (not the movie with John Travolta and Robin Williams, that’s Old Dogs and it should never be spoken of), past the very possibility of learning new tricks.

I smell all the time, cannot control my bowels and resent fetching anything. Please euthanize me.

Confronting failure in your 30s, whether it’s professional, personal, psychological or sexual is frightening.  All men fear failure, because failure is humiliating and indicative of a certain impotence, whether literal or figurative.  We’re not all Masters of the Universe, of course, but that isn’t the point.  My brother, a massively successful chef, is not “famous” per se, but he makes a tremendous living, supports a wife and child, is recognized by his peers as a genius and is in demand the world over for his artistry.  You may never have heard his name.  He told me, when I said that success in my field demanded a certain fame, “Fame isn’t success.  If you’re making a living doing what you love, then that’s success.  Don’t get the two scrambled or you’ll drive yourself crazy.”
I’m doing rather well in my chosen field and I think my growth as a human, as an artist, as a man has been one of my happiest successes.  Still, I was having trouble finding the right expression for my submissive urges.  It’s all very well and good to fantasize, to play for fun even, but to make submission a serious part of your life is fucking difficult.  Largely because life isn’t porn (though mine does come wonderfully close at times).  Also because, well, I’m selfish.  And there’s a part of most men that feels entitled to what they want when they want it.  It’s exactly what I’ve spent my life raging against, an attitude grown in a system that is essentially misogynous, but one must be honest with one’s self.  I can be a huge brat, and I can be sulky when I don’t get to indulge myself to a proper degree.
Not very subby of me.
After months of attempting this D and S framework, I was floundering, and I was grinding my brain to bits at my own failure.  Why couldn’t I just get over myself and SERVE?
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before now.
Before we go on, I know this has been a considerably more humorous blog prior to this, and more concerned with the technicalities of intimacy than with its emotional goings-on.  Here’s where I would usually put a HILARIOUS picture and caption to let you know that really, this is all a tap dance meant to amuse you.
Anyway, back to vulnerability and the possibility of losing readers.
We’d spoken of chastity before, I owned a CB6000 (for the layman, a remarkably well-put-
together plastic chastity device that is easily hidden under normal clothes), and the only thing keeping me from actually going through with it was, well, cowardice.

Look upon me and despair, for I am CB6000, destroyer of worlds. I think that's Chinese writing there. Nice.

Fuck cowardice.  Fuck it in its puckered, trembling rabbit anus.
I’ve had it on for 3 days now, and the results have been fairly astonishing.  Most immediately, there’s the rekindling of a “we just met a couple nights ago and NEED TO BONE” variety of lust.  There’s also the fact that Rosebud finds the device unspeakably hot.  She likes to knock on it.  She likes to kiss it.  She likes to blow on it.
And this is where the awesomeness of it intermingles with ASTONISHING AGONY.  I’m basically turned on all the time.  ALL OF THE TIME.  I want sex now to the power of fucking seriously in a way that I haven’t since I first discovered that getting drunk and saying something clever would get me laid.  I’ve always had a pretty healthy sex drive, but nothing speeds restoration like deprivation.  As you may have guessed, a hard wang, unless it’s comically tiny, will not fit comfortably in a CB6000.  I’m no Liam Neeson but  I get by, and I’m trapped in this feedback cycle that goes something like this:
I want to fuck, but I’m locked up.
Wait, that’s hot!  Getting an erection.
But that kind of bondage is ALSO HOT!
Please ice my balls and shoot me in the face.
Wait, don’t stop!  WHY WOULD YOU STOP?!
I was going to write a haiku, but I couldn’t figure out how to work in a mention of the season.  That’s technically what you’re supposed to do.
But here’s the part that’s wonderful: I’m considerably more positive these days.  I’ve been eager to help around the house, obliging with Rosebud’s needs and getting better at all the basics.  I view the opportunity to serve and please her as a privilege.  My attitude is as sunny as can be.  I’m not behaving well to convince her to let me out, I’m kind of just…enjoying behaving well.  This is exactly the kind of Good Samaritan shit that I was supposed to learn as a kid.  I’m kind of trying to court her again.
So what do we know?
1. Bondage is awesome.
2. My wife has a sexy mouth.
3. Chastity reframes the male sexual urge into something resembling old fashioned courtship.
4. My cock is too big.
5. I didn’t mention this, but sleeping in it is difficult.
6. Watching Sucker Punch in my CB6000 was FUCKING NIGHTMARISH.
Anyway…there will be more on this subject to come, hopefully more humorous and less…well…no, fuck it, no apologies.  This is my blog and you can read it or not.
Any comments, suggestions, pertinent personal reminiscences are welcome.
Okay, here’s a sexy picture.

I actually masturbated to this picture at age 13.

Talk to me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment