Archive for the ‘Not-So-Casual Commentary’ Category

Thoughts on “Ten Things I Hate About You”

August 8, 2022

I had watched this movie a long time ago, and remembered kinda enjoying it.  Then, I was reading “The Taming of the Shrew”, and musing about modern takes on the play that would be explicitly trying to tone down the purported misogyny, and remembered that I had picked this up cheap at some point and never watched it, and so decided it would be a good time to watch it, mostly in order to see how it tried to avoid the issues of the play while still staying true to the overall story.  And it turns out that what it did was removing the “taming” aspect of it entirely, which turns it into a more standard teen romantic comedy.

The basic idea does follow on from the basic structure of the play.  Kat and Bianca’s father is a obstetrician, and so sees a lot of teenage pregnancies and so does not want his children to end up in that state themselves, and so is a bit overly protective of them in that regard.  This is what spawns his demand that Bianca can’t date until Kat does, and Kat doesn’t date.  She’s also very aggressive, interrupting her English class to demand more women authors despite her doing that seemingly every class and doing it to a black teacher who points that out to her, and running over people in her soccer match in a way that would get her a red card in most games.  Meanwhile, a newcomer to the school falls in love with and wants to date Bianca, while she’s drawn the attention of the Alpha Jock of the school who simply wants to sleep with her.  The newcomer finds the guy to date Kat, and he and the Alpha Jock pay him to date Kat, where they clash at times but seem to start to care about each other.  Meanwhile, the newcomer isn’t on Bianca’s radar even as he tries to tutor her in French, because she’s interested in the Alpha Jock, but after a party starts to dislike him and like the newcomer, which culminates in them going to prom.  The Alpha Jock, upset that he paid money to Kat’s suitor to not get Bianca, reveals the deal and Kat storms off, and when he badmouths Bianca the newcomer tries to stand up for her and gets hit, but then Bianca clocks the Alpha Jock — who had sex with and then dumped Kat earlier when Kat didn’t want to have sex with him again — for her date, her sister, and herself, and the movie ends with Kat and her beau making up while Bianca dates the newcomer.

As it stands, there is no real taming of Kat in this movie.  Thus, it works a lot more like a standard teen romance where the two of them have to feel around their feelings for each other around a plot where misunderstandings can occur and get in the road than with him having to really break down her barriers and find a way to get her to let go of her issues and anger and become a better person.  So there is no speech where she talks at all about how she’s stopped being so much of a shrew and why she did that, and so no equivalent to the actual taming of the shrew or any real acknowledgement that she ever was.  So that aspect is totally lost.

What this does, ironically, is make it so that Bianca has the more interesting arc.  In the play, the audience’s perception of her moves from her being all sweetness and light to her becoming more of a shrew herself, while in the movie she is still somewhat sweet but is shown or at least talked about as being more selfish from the start, which she loses at the end of the movie.  There’s even a scene where the newcomer, frustrated with feeling that she is using him, asks her if she was always that selfish and she sheepishly and morosely says “Yes”, realizing that she has indeed been a bit selfish.  She also picks up or at least demonstrates that she’s not that different from Kat and has picked up her ability to stand up for herself, pushing the newcomer to ask her out and, of course, beating up the Alpha Jock at the end, while realizing that what he could offer isn’t worth having but what the newcomer has to offer is.  So she has the better arc and ends up being the most interesting and sympathetic character in the movie.

The movie itself isn’t bad, and is still a movie that I might want to rewatch at some point, so it goes into my closet of movies to rewatch at some point.  However, as noted, despite its copious references to the play and to Shakespeare — mainly names and the interest of one of the minor characters in Shakespeare — it doesn’t really capture “The Taming of the Shrew” because it leaves the taming part out (unless you count Bianca’s conversion as that, but she’s too nice from the start for that to work).  Still, that doesn’t count against it as its own work, but does make it a poor movie as a follow-on to “The Taming of the Shrew”.

Thoughts on “The Taming of the Shrew”

August 3, 2022

As people who have been following my months-long mission to read all of Shakespeare’s plays will know, I haven’t had much luck with his comedies.  I found “Love’s Labour’s Lost” the most interesting but still a bit flawed, and followed that up with actively disliking the first of the truly famous comedies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  So I was looking forward to “The Taming of the Shrew” with some trepidation, especially since it was a play that I had read in high school and remembered enjoying.  Was I not going to like it, in line with the other comedies?  Or was I going to enjoy it like I did before, meaning that there was something about it that the other comedies didn’t have?

As it turns out, I actually quite liked “The Taming of the Shrew”.

The basic plot (for the few people who aren’t aware of it) is that there’s a rich gentleman who has two daughters.  The younger, Bianca, is being courted by two suitors and a third joins in soon afterwards, but the father insists that his older daughter, Katharina, must be married before his younger daughter can be married.  Unfortunately, Katharina is noted for being a shrew and so no one wants to marry her.  One of the suitors finds that a friend of his, Petruchio, has arrived in the city and is looking for a rich woman to marry, and isn’t at all afraid at marrying a shrew, promising that he will “tame” her.  The rest of the play follows his courting and taming of Katharina, with a subplot where the new suitor poses as a tutor for Bianca while his servant pretends to be him, which causes issues when the suitor’s father arrives in town.

Compared to some of the earlier comedies, this is a comedy that actually has a solid comedic premise and plot.  “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has that as well, but it has multiple ones that aren’t that well aligned and yet are also individually important.  Here, there is the main plot with the taming of the shrew and a minor aside plot with the deception.  Also, most of the humour is not as mean-spirited as some of the humour in the other plays.  While one can argue that Petruchio treats Katharina rather badly, the play does make it clear that he’s doing that not to, say, drive her insane (as he insists that the sun is out and then changes to insisting that it’s night and the moon is out, for example) but instead simply to break through her rather insulting nature.  So he’s not doing that to insult her, but instead as a direct move against her.  Of course, how you feel about that humour will depend on how you view whether that sort of ploy is valid or reasonable, which famously a number of people — especially feminists — don’t appreciate all that much.  Other than that, the humour between, say, Petruchio and his servant is based on simple misunderstandings as Petruchio is prone to using words that are ambiguous that his servant happens to interpret in exactly the wrong way, to humourous effect.  Also, in line with that, the humour is far more based on banter than on speeches, and Shakespeare, as I’ve said before, has an incredible gift for banter.

That being said, I have to address the actual taming, because that aspect is what makes people call “The Taming of the Shrew” Shakepeare’s most misogynistic play.  Coming in and going from my memory of the play, I was sure that it was fair to call it misogynistic.  I remembered that he was demanding and totally unfair, but thought that a way to go about it would be to present that as him trying to out-demand her to show how it felt when someone as unreasonably demanding as she could be.  And the play actually does that.  When he’s courting her, he takes every insult she slings at him and still insists that she’s wonderful and that he wants to marry her, and when they are married he is deliberately unreasonably demanding, which causes her — as someone concerned with social niceties — to actually have to try to pull him back instead of being demanding herself.  So if you can see her as being unreasonably demanding and insulting and his goal being to get her to see how much that hurts others and so see how it’s not a good way to be, you won’t really find it misogynistic.

However, I do think the play ends up being problematic in that regard, for a couple of reasons.  The first is that Petruchio starts off simply wanting a rich wife with a good dowry, and while I think most people — and certainly most defenders of the play — think that he does come to care for her, there isn’t really anything in the play that indicates that.  It’s perfectly valid to believe that at the end of the play he still thinks of her more as a rich wife than as a full wife that he cares about.  This is one of the things that blunts her last statement that if her husband asks her to do something out of his “honest will” she should just go along with it, as that would imply that if he cares about her and thinks that it’s the best thing for them then that definitely isn’t something to get stubborn over (unless it’s clearly wrong).  If he doesn’t really care about her and instead cares more about himself, then that doesn’t work.  The second issue is that when she says that it follows on from him asking her to do things that she clearly doesn’t or shouldn’t want to do just so that he can win a bet with his friend and her father.  That in and of itself wouldn’t be bad, but the second thing he asks — for her to take off her hat and step on it, presumably a hat that she likes — comes after he’s already won the bet, and he basically says after they’ve conceded that he’s going to prove it even more so with that.  So it doesn’t seem like he’s asking for that out of his “honest will”, because the only thing that could be satisfied by that is his own ego.  That she obeys without question, then, doesn’t reflect a relationship where he asks her to do things that she might not want to do because it’s necessary to gain an advantage for both of them, but instead one where he does that to buttress his own ego.

I’m going to talk about an attempt to modernize this — “Ten Things I Hate About You” — later, but I want to note that a lot of attempts to modernize it that try to avoid that tend to do so by dropping the “taming” part, which turns it into more of a feuding couple plot than what it was originally.  Or, at least, that’s my impression.  But I think you can make the basic plot work without falling into what might seem like misogyny.  What you have to start with, I think, is the idea that Katharina, as someone in that time, does indeed want to get married, but isn’t all that impressed with the suitors available, which would also allow you to fix the scene where she ties up and beats Bianca demanding to know which suitor she likes by having her essentially be asking her which of those idiots she cares for (which can then work to have Bianca reject both for the new suitor).  So she wants to find someone that she can at least respect in some way, and is frustrated that so many men aren’t at all worthy of her respect.  However, her father has put her in a terrible situation where he wants her sister to get married, her sister wants to get married, but she has to be married before her sister can.  So Petruchio can come in and impress her by not being driven away by her insults but also demonstrating that he’s clever, and that impresses her (which was what I suggested the movie “Ophelia” could have done with Ophelia and Hamlet).  So he’s a more worthy candidate than the others, which is why she agrees and even looks forward to the wedding.  However, she’s still spoiled and still used to being able to get her own way by demanding it, and so Petruchio breaks out being overly demanding to, as noted above, show her what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that.  At the end, he should only ask her to do those things precisely to win the bet, and the bet should be clearly something that benefits them both.  The best way to do this in line with the original ending is to make it so that Bianca’s father still thinks that she’s the nicer and more obedient of the two, and makes the bet with Petruchio for control of his estate, and so he only overdoes the commands to make it clear that Katharina is more obedient than Bianca is, and only to the point necessary to convince her father.

Doing it this way, I think, would eliminate the more problematic aspects of the play while still maintaining the idea that the shrew does, in fact, need to be tamed and that her being tamed is a good thing, not just for him, but also for her.

That being said, I still did enjoy it.  It’s by far the most enjoyable of the comedies for me so far, which also indicates that I can enjoy one of Shakespeare’s comedies.  Up next is what I assume is another historical drama in “King Richard the Second”.

Shallow Thoughts on “Darrow and Darrow”

August 1, 2022

While working from home, my neighbourhood is both too loud and too quiet for me to work without my having some kind of noise on in the background.  It’s too quiet because it’s generally a quiet neighbourhood and so I end up with a lot of silence, which lets me hear every single creak or every single squirrel running along the roof.  But it’s also too noisy because it’s a main route to a few places and so it gets a bit of traffic, and it’s a built up area so there are often people doing outside work and yard work or walking down the street talking and so on and so forth.  On top of that, what I discovered while playing games like “The Old Republic” is that it’s nice to have something to look up at in those times when things on the screen aren’t really keeping my attention, which is why my main desk for games and now for working from home gives me a view of my main TV in the living room.

Thus, when I’m working from home what I want to find are things that I can watch on TV that I can look up at on occasion that provide some background noise but aren’t too distracting.  I often would watch some of the Lifetime movies when I had that as part of the cable package I had at the time, but the fact that they kept repeating the movies and weren’t putting out any new ones caused me to stop watching them and, eventually, to drop that package.  As part of the new package, I picked up a drama channel that ran some mysteries at a time when nothing else was on that started when my normal DVD watching finished.  Since I’m supposed to be going back into the office in September, I decided when I noted that I probably wasn’t going to be able to finish the ones that I had planned to finish this summer that in light of the fact that rushing these DVDs and trying to finish them tends to annoy me I would just hunt around and find something on TV to watch, which then left a gap that I filled with movies (right now, it’s the James Bond movies).  This also allowed me to switch watching those movies from around noon to early in the morning.

Which was good, because it turns out that they have a few series that they then, surprise, surprise, repeat.  It starts with a couple of the “Murder, She Baked” series starting Alison Sweeney, who I knew from “Days of Our Lives”, and then an archeological series starring Courtney Thorne-Smith, who I remember from “Melrose Place”, and then a crossworld puzzle themed one starring Lacey Chabert, who I know from “Party of Five”, and then “Darrow and Darrow” a law firm based series which is the subject of this post and whose star I didn’t know, and then a garage sale/antiques themed one staring Lori Loughlin.  I’m not all that pleased that they keep repeating, and it is a bit annoying that they have something like 10 or more of the last one and usually only about two or three of the others, but it works for my early morning vaguely paying attention period, as all the movies have recognizable faces that I recall and don’t mind watching (even “Darrow and Darrow” has Wendie Malick) but that I don’t really have to pay attention to and if I happen to look up I won’t really have missed much.

But this past run I ended up doing things that required me to sit for longer periods of time waiting for things to happen, both in terms of noting that if I waited for a while between runs I could reproduce an error more frequently and in terms of having to wait to see if in another error case the system would eventually recover or, for another problem, if it would eventually lock the entire system up.  While this covered a few days, a lot of it happened during the run of “Darrow and Darrow”, and I found that I was enjoying those more than the others.

One of the main reasons for that is that while paying attention to it I found that the series was funnier than I remembered it and funnier than the other movies.  Yes, all of them had their lighter moments, and yes, I had noted that the main character could be snarky in her court appearances, but there were a lot more jokes in general in the series than I recalled and they were a lot funnier than I remember.  Of course, I don’t remember any of them now, but do recall an interesting discussion between the main character and her love interest about grape soda — and how it tastes good but nothing like grape — and of course Wendie Malick’s character — the mother of the main character — having a tendency, when asked about herself, to make up jokes about her past, such as when there was a sharing session at the law firm and she said “Well, I shot a man in Rio just to watch him die”, and when they asked if she was serious she replied that of course she wasn’t, as it was Johnny Cash.  So paying a little more attention to the series it seems like there’s more humour in it than I originally thought.

Now, one of the problems I had had originally with the show was that the lead, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, was probably the best looking of all the leads.  Sure, you could make a case for Lacey Chabert or Lori Loughlin, but to me, at least, as presented she was more attractive.  Now, that in and of itself wasn’t going to bother me.  But since these seem to be mysteries aimed more at a female audience, that means that there needs to be a love interest.  And the love interest here is the dorkiest out of all of the love interests.  So you have the most attractive female lead having the dorkiest love interest.  That didn’t seem to work.

On paying more attention to it, though, it became clear that that was the intent.  As a love interest, the focus is not on him being the traditional type of love interest, but instead on him being, well, a dorky love interest.  The reason is that the main character is presented as being a bit of a dork herself, which means that she should find a more dorky love interest interesting.  This is presented first by her daughter being presented as being a dork — interested in engineering and not getting along with people that well — and then having the main character note that her daughter isn’t that much different from her, which has Wendie Malick’s mother point out that that’s kinda the problem.  So the series establishes that the main character is a bit of dork by establishing that her daughter is a bit of a dork and is a lot like her mother, and so we can see that what she likes about her love interest is not that he’s incredibly handsome, but that he’s a bit dorky and awkward, kinda like her.

Of course, why I had issues with it was that early on her mother, when she meets him, comments that he’s an incredibly handsome man, and since compared to the typical love interest in these movies he wasn’t it really seemed out of place.  It would have worked better if the mother had first simply commented that he seemed interested in the main character, and then that he was handsome enough and was a dork like the main character was, all of which would have been accurate and not caused anyone to note that what she said didn’t seem accurate when compared to the other movies.  Once that was forgotten, the dork-to-dork attraction became more obvious.

Anyway, it’s a more interesting series of movies than I originally thought, and so at some point I might even be tempted to actually pay attention and watch an entire one.

Thoughts on “King John”

July 27, 2022

The next play is “King John”, which is another dramatic history, this time examining a revolt against King John — of Richard the Lion-Hearted and Robin Hood fame — which ultimately leads to King John’s death.  One important character is given the appellation “Bastard”, and is the illegitimate son of Richard the Lion-Hearted, which gets Richard and John’s mother Elinor to support him and get him into the royal household, where he ends up as a commentator on what is going on.  I don’t mind the character and his speeches are among the most clever out of all of them, but ultimately he seems like an overly convenient character, able to advocate for peace or for war as required but without us getting a really clear sense of what his own goals or desires are, and so no clear sense of why he would do that.  He’s also an exceptionally strong warrior who is claimed to turn around an entire battle all on his own, which is a mild annoyance, especially given how unclear the character himself is.

The big flaw, at least for me, in this play is that there is almost no banter and even the conversations occur in speeches, not banter.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the speeches are often long-winded and repetitive.  I find Constance — the mother of the man who is to be put on the throne instead of John — the worst, as she is often given a long speech that basically boils down to “You suck!” only to be followed by another long speech saying the same thing when the person she’s talking to demurs.  If you’re going to do dialogue through speeches the speeches really need to say something important and meaningful.  Style, which Shakespeare has in abundance, doesn’t cut it, and too much of the time that’s all he has here.  Some of them are better, but a lot of them, especially early on, are just boring and, again, repetitive.

I also noted something about the histories vs the more famous dramas, starting from “Romeo and Juliet” and leading on into the ones I most remember, like “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”:  the plot in the histories seems to be nothing more than to give a dramatic retelling of the history, while the others have full-on plots.  Here, all I could say about the play is that it is the telling of an insurrection against King John that leads to his death, but for the others I could summarize their plots in a few sentences and have them sound interesting, such as “The tragedy of two star-crossed lovers from feuding families” for “Romeo and Juliet”, or “A Prince of Denmark attempts to deal with his usurping stepfather” for “Hamlet” or “An ambitious man and his wife murder the king to usurp his crown” for “Macbeth”.  I don’t think I could say that for any of the histories.  I wonder if I’ll feel the same way about “Julius Caesar”, which in premise is probably more a history than a tragic drama, although given that the ones so far are histories of England perhaps the audience knew more and had more of an attachment to it than the others which allowed the history to be presented as a history itself and not as something more.  I hasten to add that there’s nothing wrong with histories, as on that very point they are something that the audience at the time might well enjoy as much if not more than the others.  It’s just that they’d tend to have less universal appeal, which could very well explain why those histories, at least, are not among the more famous of Shakespeare’s plays.

In contrast to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, this one returns to the model that inferior Shakespeare is still pretty good.  As I already said, Shakespeare has style in abundance which makes the repetitive speeches tolerable, even if not good.  I didn’t dislike the play, but didn’t find it particularly interesting either.

Up next is “The Taming of the Shrew”, a comedy that I enjoyed in high school but that I might not enjoy now.  Will it be the first Shakespearean comedy that I really liked?  We’ll find out.

Thoughts on “Ghost Whisperer” (Season 4)

July 26, 2022

As you might recall, Season 3 ended with a cliffhanger where there were six people standing around but they only cast five shadows.  I was curious to see what they were going to do with that set-up, which turned out to be … not much at all.  It’s referenced at the beginning of Season 4 as something for them to worry about, but then gets ignored as the professor from the previous seasons leaves to go on a sabbatical which very much upsets Melinda for … some reason, given that when professors take sabbaticals they usually come back after a year or so and while there’s some hint that he might be in danger none of that is referenced again, and it’s only in that arc that the “five shadows” are even mentioned.  Later, when Jim himself actually dies it isn’t raised.  So that entire cliffhanger pretty much just fizzles out.

Although, that might have been due to the change over in the creative staff, as the show creator who was also the head creative person moved out to become a consultant and was replaced, and the show changed significantly as a result.  A lot of the specific horror elements from the previous seasons were dropped, such as whatever was going on in the tunnels under the town (although they are still mentioned) and Melinda’s brother (who isn’t mentioned at all).  Instead, a group of women appear to act as some kind of guides to Melinda, warning her while she’s trying to get pregnant that her interactions with the dead might mean that death can touch her and the people around her, and there’s also an addition/focus on the advisory group called the “Watchers” who have plans of their own.  So it’s almost like another reboot of the show, as I noted it felt like in Season 2.

This is only more pronounced when we turn to the secondary characters.  The expert character of the professor, as already noted, leaves but is replaced with a Psychology professor who after a near-death experience can hear ghosts.  He starts out being in the same sort of jerk mold as the professor, but gets a lot of softening so that he’s just a bit snarky, and Melinda seems in general to be more comfortable with him than she was with the professor.  That being said, he ends up being mostly a sidekick for her and I didn’t think she really needed one, so he often doesn’t get to do much.  And so for the most part I feel that he’s another wasted character, but there are some times when the character really does allow for things to happen that couldn’t have happened otherwise.

Which leads in to what happens with the other characters.  As I noted above, Jim, her husband, dies from a gunshot wound while fighting off a killer, when the police detective helping them shoots him by accident (which his grief over the death of his daughter contributed to, which Melinda has to deal with in the next episode).  This leads to an arc where he doesn’t want to cross over — which was hinted at in earlier seasons — and Melinda wants him to.  Ultimately, he is following her around and someone near them dies, and so he jumps into the body and so “comes back to life” (which they call “stepping in” which the show explicitly notes they had talked about before) but has lost all of his memories of being either Jim or the original guy, which then sets up a long arc with Melinda trying to get him to remember being Jim while his family and other people work to get him to remember being the original person, and also Melinda wanting to let him in on her ghost-seeing ability — especially once they start dating — but his extreme skepticism over that makes it difficult and risks him seeing her as nuts — which he hints at and even explicitly says when she tells him — which, of course, keys into her old wounds of people thinking that she was weird and insane for being able to see ghosts.

Now, when I first started watching this arc, I thought that this was a completely bonkers plot.  And, to be fair, I still think it is.  However, it actually ended up, at least for the length of its run, fixing my issues with the secondary characters of Jim and Delia.  I complained that Jim didn’t have anything to do in the show other than be supportive and worried, and the loss of memory and attempts to recover that and the attempts for them to reconnect give him a lot of things to do, and since he was a ghost that appropriated a new body it’s even attached to the main premise of the show.  And I complained that his role didn’t leave Delia room to be the supportive friend, but the show uses this to convince Delia, at least in part, of the existence of ghosts and eliminate her skepticism when she becomes convinced that this really is Jim and not just Melinda hoping that this is Jim, and since Delia had lost her husband it makes her be a complete advocate for Melinda getting back together with Jim and taking her second chance, which then puts her squarely in the “supportive friend” role, which works really well.  Of course, they ultimately do have him resolve his memory issues, by having him remember being Jim but not remember anything from the time when he was trying to remember who he was, which I think was a bit of a mistake, as having him remember his experiences while dead would give him a unique view that would avoid him falling back into “supportive but worried” in future seasons.  But we’ll have to see how this works in Season 5.

This also is the case where Eli, the guy who can hear but not see ghosts, was actually useful.  As Melinda ran around trying to get Jim to recall his memory, it allowed Eli to take point on the normal ghost issue in the episode, particularly in one episode where she takes a road trip with him to try to get him to remember who he is before he decides to marry the woman that the original guy was going to propose to.  While there are a couple of small ghost incidents as complications for Melinda in her arc, the big ghost arc in that episode is handled by Eli and Delia, which allows for the show to maintain its original focus while still being able to have a mostly non-ghost arc with Melinda and Jim.

Now, this could be an objection to the storyline, as especially when Jim looks for the woman who might have been his fiancee and when the two of them start dating and Melinda keeps trying to hide her ghost abilities from him the plot really starts to be far more soap operaish than the show had been up to that point.  That being said, we’ve had three to three and a half seasons of a show with an empathetic character played by Jennifer Love Hewitt, and so in general we should come in at this point liking her and wanting to see her be happy or at least have her issues be resolved, and so we in general are probably going to be willing to suffer through that because we will ultimately care about what happens to her.  Thus, I noticed that the plot was very soap operaish but found that I didn’t really mind because Jennifer Love Hewitt plays it well and shows the emotions that she’d be going through well, so it was interesting enough, and the show is indeed smart enough to maintain some of the original tone and in general always have a ghost story in each episode, and so we don’t lose what was keeping us watching the show while adding the more personal story that does allow Jim to have an arc that is important, meaningful, and emotional.

Interestingly, what I noticed as the season went on is that while originally it was more of a straight ghost story, by the end it was turning into a show that reminded me a lot of “Charmed”.  A supernatural love story (Melinda and Jim) coupled with ancestral protectors and mysterious supernatural advisors started to feel a lot like “Charmed”.  The end of the season only made that more striking when the advice is that Melinda’s soon-to-be-born son is going to be some sort of powerful force for good that the opposing forces want to stop really reminds me of Piper’s children from “Charmed”, and it moves the show away from the more serious threads that they started with in the previous seasons towards a more direct “good vs evil” plot.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the fifth season.

That being said, it does maintain one thing from the previous seasons where it starts its last arc quite late, usually in the last three episodes.  Here, that involves a book called the “Book of Changes” — which, again, seems a lot like “Charmed” — that records information about Melinda and some important notes about her life, which the Watchers want to protect from a group of opposing people (implied to be evil) who want to get their hands on it.  Eli suddenly reveals that he had a friend/lover that is an expert on the supernatural, and then she is revealed to be interested in the collection that has the book while he is interested in getting back together with her now that he believes in the supernatural (that was apparently the big stumbling block with their relationship), then she gets killed by accident, and then he has to try to get her to cross over but she claims to have something else to do, but she crosses over once he decides to accept being the protector of the book.  This, of course, is handled over the course of three episodes and comes out of nowhere.  At the same time, they need to reveal that Melinda’s baby is going to be important and do that with a misdirection on it being a girl with a claim that “she will be important” but that “she can’t be saved”, which I guess refers to the lover but I’m not at all certain about that.  So this arc is rushed and comes out of nowhere with some references to previous things, so pretty much like the show has been doing up until now.

However, the season doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but instead on dropping threads for the next season, like the issues around Melinda’s son, as well as Eli taking on the role of the protector of the book, which likely means that he will be moving on after this season (they explicitly say that he can’t stay in one place with the book).  Instead of ending on a cliffhanger, then, it ends by resolving the main arc of the season, with Jim-in-new-body remarrying Melinda to make that all legal.   Again, that’s a very “Charmed” way of ending a season, but at least it will avoid them raising something as a cliffhanger and then either resolving it in a perfunctory fashion or not at all, which was an issue with the previous seasons.

So, this season changed things up quite a bit, and in some ways that I, at least, thought were improvements.  However, the next season is the last season of the series, so perhaps those changes didn’t work out so well for the show.  I’ll see how that worked when I watch the last season, Season 5.

Thoughts on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

July 20, 2022

So after being somewhat disappointed in the Shakespeare I had been reading, I enjoyed “Love’s Labour’s Lost” a bit more than the other comedies and then moved on to the genuinely enjoyable “Romeo and Juliet”, and so had some mild optimism going into another of the better known plays in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, despite having some trepidation about it given that it is another comedy and so far I haven’t enjoyed the comedies all that much.

As it turns out, I didn’t like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at all.

The basic premise is indeed a basic one of comedy, where due to a mysterious herb Oberon tries to win the services of a page that Titania has and he desires by making her fall in love with some strange beast or the like so that he can trade curing her for the page.  He also comes across Demetrius being pursued by Helena, who loves him but Demetrius used to be in love with her but is now in love with Hermia, who is not in love with him but instead loves Lysander, who actually does love her.  Oberon tells Puck to make Demetrius fall in love with Helena to resolve that issue, but through an error of vagueness Puck instead makes Lysander fall in love with Helena instead, and then later he corrects his error but this leaves both Lysander and Demetrius in love with Helena and no one in love with Hermia.  Also, a group of players has arrived in the forest where this takes place and Puck turns one of them into someone with a donkey’s head and then gets Titania to fall in love with him, satisfying that plot, which does work out for Oberon.

One of the main issues here, at least for me, is that there are too many different groups here that are only tangentially related.  The issues for Helena and Hermia only come about because of a whim of Oberon’s, and the players are only there by accident and it doesn’t seem like Puck transforms the player in order to give something horrible to get Titania to fall in love with to advance Oberon’s plan.  So these are all loosely connected but it makes the play seem a bit overstuffed, at least to me.  This is especially the case since like in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” the play ends with the players putting on a play and the principals commenting on it, but it’s even more irrelevant here and the commenting isn’t even all that funny.  Again, on thinking about it, it would have been better to have put the play early on and have Puck explicitly transform the player as part of Oberon’s plan, reacting to a comment that the player’s playing made him seem like an ass, which would at least have better connected the two.  I also think it would have been nice if Oberon and Titania were actually trying to resolve the situation of the lovers — possibly because it was a problem for Theseus and Hippolyta and they were both inclined towards at least one of them — and chose different solutions to the problem causing the confusion, as again that would have connected the various elements more and so made the play seem more coherent and less like a bunch of things tossed together.  Also, if the play had to be at the end, it would have been better for it to be the player relating his dream and so a play based on the play itself rather than an inferior — deliberately, it seems — version of “Romeo and Juliet”.

While the “potion or the like that makes people fall in love with the wrong person” trope is indeed a common one in comedy, I disliked how it was used here.  What we’ve seen in most modern interpretations is that the potion never really produces a simple love triangle like we see here — with two men in love with the same woman — but instead a love chain.  So here, what we’d be more likely to see is almost what we started with, with Helena in love with Demetrius, who loves Hermia, who loves Lysander, who loves Helena.  With them rejecting and being annoyed by the advances of the admirer they don’t favour, there would be plenty of opportunities for banter and, of course, for each of them to be trying to avoid one suitor while trying to get the one they are pursuing alone so that they can make much woo.  But that’s not what happens here.  Instead, what we get is a situation where Demetrius and Lysander remain rivals for the same love interest, and most of the speeches are about Helena believing that these two gents who were not at all interested in her are playing a joke on her at Hermia’s behest, while Hermia accuses Helena of doing something to win her love away.  This is far too serious and far too reasonable a set of complaints to really work as being funny in and of themselves, so the dialogue itself is going to have to carry the humour.

Which is another weakness here.  When it comes to humour, Shakespeare’s gift is in banter.  He really does do banter well, being very clever at wordplay which adds to his normal sense of timing in creating an interesting back and forth.  Here, though, there is almost no banter, and even the conversations are more speeches than short, witty, back and forth, which plays against his strengths.  The speeches from “Love’s Labour’s Lost” with Berowne worked because the premise was inherently humourous, as he was trying to talk his way out of commitments that he had but didn’t want to fulfill.  Here, as noted, what they are talking about isn’t inherently funny and that makes it very difficult to make the conversations funny, especially if we don’t have clever banter.  So all we have is the inherent ridiculousness of the situation, which as many a sitcom writer has discovered we need more than to make a really strong comedic work.

That being said, this is probably a play that works better being performed than in being read.  Seeing the donkey-headed player would spawn some laughs in and of itself, and we would definitely get some humour out of actually hearing the players butcher the play, thus justifying the criticisms of it.  Reading it loses these clues that would provide a more visceral experience.  Still, the lack of clever banter and the potions simply switching the love triangle around do indeed seem to leave the play behind the 8-ball in becoming a classic comedy.

So, my disappointment in the comedies continues, and this is probably the first of his plays that I actually disliked.  The next play up is “King John”, which for now I will assume is not a comedy.

Welcome to Space Crusade

July 18, 2022

So as I noted back in June, I decided to try out a new gaming schedule … which I ended up shuffling a bit for other reasons.  But the one thing that I did manage to mostly stick with was playing the old Amiga version of “Space Crusade”.  Now, this was actually a game that I most remember playing with some friends from high school, and then later one of those friends sent me a bunch of emulated games were, surprise, surprise, this game was included.  I poked around with it a little bit and still enjoyed it, but other games and distractions replaced it and so I never really did anything more with it than that quick exploration.  So when I redid my gaming schedule, I decided to just go through all of the missions and essentially “complete” it.

“Space Crusade” is a “Warhammer 40K” game, where a player can take on up to three squads of Space Marines in a mission against Chaos forces.  The game is turn-based, so each squad acts in turn and then the Chaos forces act, which means that one player can take on three squads or up to three different players can play hotseat, in a mostly co-operative fashion to see who can get the most points (there is one mission where a virus was released and so the squads are encouraged to wipe out the other squads since only one of them can receive the antidote).  The squad with the most points — if they exceed the mission minimum score — gets medals and awards and squads that do really badly end up being stripped of all medals.  I suspect that you can assign these medals to your squad to improve things but have never actually tried it to see.

Each squad member uses a different weapon.  The Commander can only engage in melee, but comes equipped with a sword and also has multiple hit points, which means that he can survive successful attacks from the Chaos forces whereas the others cannot.  If Soulsucker appears — a powerful melee combatant — you really want your Commander to take the brunt of that attack.  There’s also a disintegrator weapon that fires in a straight line but applies its attack roll to everything in that line at least until it hits a wall.  I haven’t really tested if it will stop at enemies that survive the attack, but it can take out a lot of enemies if they happen to be lined up (I’ve picked off three or four at a time in the last mission).  Then there’s a rocket launcher type weapon that kills everything in a 2×2 square, and a smart gun type weapon where if the first target is killed by it any leftover power from the rolls — all attacks are made by rolling dice — can be applied to other targets until it runs out.  The last marine just gets a standard gun, but it tends to have a melee weapon which I think makes fighting in melee easier, and also the other weapons have a weight penalty to them so the marines that have them move slower.

The Chaos forces get a movement phase, but there’s also an event phase at the end of the turn where things can happen, and most of the time they aren’t good things for the marines, like attacks by traps or auto-defenses — I had a trap wipe out about half a squad once — or spawns of Soulsuckers and Chaos Marines.  However, sometimes good things can happen like Master Controls being given to one of the squads, which allows them to open and close doors anywhere on the ship that the mission is taking place on.  This is really useful because it turns out that you can kill enemies by closing doors on them.  In one mission, the squad that got it killed two androids — enemies with a lot of dice they can roll — and a Dreadnought — very big robot enemy with a lot of attacks — through this, and in the three missions I’ve played I’ve faced three Dreadnoughts — one in each mission — and killed two of the three through closing a door on them.  The bad thing is that it looks like if you close a door on something you don’t get credit for killing it and so no points from that, which hurts all the more when it’s a secondary objective to the mission.

The game can be pretty deadly.  In the first mission I tried, one squad managed to lose all but two marines in the first five moves, and as mentioned the booby trap killed an entire squad at one point.  If even weak enemies get good rolls they can take out a lot of marines in a hurry, and they tend to target marines instead of targeting the Commander, even if the Commander is closer to them.  On the flip side of that, however, if the enemies get bad rolls and the marines get good ones you can avoid losses and come through mostly unscathed.  However, the game makes you walk through the ship and then back to your starting point, and while walking back events almost always cause complications for you.  I had one squad that was mostly at full strength but then had one succumb to the Lure of Chaos which converts them to a Chaos Marine, who then immediately got a turn and killed another marine.  Another Soulsucker attack and I think only the Commander survived that one.

This feature is what makes me only able to play one mission at a time, even though a mission takes about an hour or so and I usually have the time to play more than one mission in that time block.  Walking out and walking back, even when fighting, can be a bit ponderous and so I end up being tired of the micromanagement by the end of a mission.  I enjoy the missions and enjoy thinking about good attacks I’ve made or devastating attacks from the enemies, but after an hour or so am not anxious to do another session of moving marines slowly across the map to the objective and back again, especially since the ones with the special weapons move so very, very slowly.

Still, I definitely enjoy the game and it’s a lot of fun.  Unless time constraints or difficulty bites me, I should be able to play through the missions and so “finish” the game.

Thoughts on “Romeo and Juliet”

July 13, 2022

So, when the time slot came around for me to read Shakespeare and I knew this one was coming up, I was filled with trepidation.  This was the first of the really famous Shakespearean plays that I had never actually read (the ones I remember actually reading are “Hamlet”, “Macbeth” and “The Taming of the Shrew”, and even that was a long time ago).  So far, I’d found myself pretty disappointed with the plays I’d read so far.  Sure, to echo the sentiment from malcolmthecynic, inferior Shakespeare is still pretty good, but when I set out on what it likely to be an eight month long project to read all of the plays I was really, really hoping that the plays would be really memorable and classic, and not just okay.  So what would it mean if, in reading this one, I found it as disappointing as the previous plays?

As it turns out, “Romeo and Juliet” is a lot better than the earlier dramas/tragedies.

The big thing that drives that is the fact that finally we have a tragedy with a sensible plot that follows on through the play.  We all know the tale:  two families are feuding, but the sole children of the heads of the families fall in love with each other, secretly marry, and then due to Romeo killing a member of Juliet’s family in somewhat revenge for that member killing his good friend Romeo gets exiled and the family tries to marry Juliet off to someone else, she fakes her death to get out of it but Romeo isn’t informed, hears that she has died, finds her in the tomb and kills himself, and when she awakens she finds him dead and kills herself, and in their deaths the families end their feud.  Aside from the chorus spoiling the ending before the first act, this plot progression generally works.  It also works as a tragedy because the events proceed in the same manner as a “Batman Gambit”:  the characters could avoid the tragedy pretty easily, and often then and especially we in the audience can see how they could do that, but because of their natures they absolutely aren’t going to and might even be incapable of doing so.  While I would say that just from memory it isn’t as set as we might see in something like “Hamlet”, we can see that the hatred between the families is going to cause problems and are even told that if they accepted the marriage between the two things it would end the issues, but events — and the hotheaded troublemaker Tybalt, the family member who is killed by Romeo — won’t let that happen.

There are some flaws.  The first one is that especially early on there are some meandering and pointless speeches, but Shakespeare actually does have other characters point that out and even makes it a character note for Mercutio, with Romeo constantly calling him out for it.  The flaw in making that a character trait for Mercutio is that it doesn’t seem to be what causes him to get into that fight with Tybalt that gets him killed — at least in part by Romeo’s interference — and it would have worked better if the trait itself had had more of an impact on events.  Also, there’s a subplot where Romeo was in love with another woman first before meeting Juliet, but this doesn’t add much to the play and only makes us wonder if Romeo’s love of Juliet was more hormones than real love considering how quickly he shifts from one to the other.  If both of them were uninterested in anyone else before meeting each other, it would have really cemented the “one true love” aspect instead of casting doubt upon it.  And Juliet’s paramour Paris — that she was uninterested in from the start — is another subplot that isn’t really needed but was prominent enough that it needed to be resolved at the end, with Paris attacking Romeo in the tomb and Romeo killing him.  While the subplot itself was harmless, that it needed to be resolved at the climax when we should have been focusing on Romeo finding Juliet and the tragedy there is another example of something not entirely relevant hijacking the emotions of the climax.

Still, all of these are minor flaws in a work that’s overall quite good.  I’m a bit relieved to note that, yes, I can indeed enjoy the classic Shakespearean plays while noting that some of the more minor and earlier plays have significant flaws.  Next up is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Thoughts on “Ghost Whisperer” (Season 3)

July 12, 2022

What I noticed in Season 2 that carries on to this one is that it almost seems like they rebooted the series after Season 1, at least in spirit, because the plot lines of Season 2 seem to work better for a first season than for a second one, and the plot lines of Season 3 seems to work better as a second season than a third season.  The second season introduces Melinda’s brother and some additional details about the town, and has the start of the plot where Melinda meets someone new and has to try to hide her abilities from her, and introduces the expert character who can explain things to us and to Melinda, while the third season addresses the issues with her father and also introduces us to the reason why the town that she moved into has far more spirits than she might have been used to, and also introduces us to what might be an opposing group.  We find out about dark spirits in Season 2, and Season 3 gives us a home for at least some of them, and explains why they might be getting more aggressive and powerful than, again, Melinda was used to.

The issue with this, of course, is that we already had a Season 1 that the show, obviously, didn’t officially abandon, and so we are watching all of this in the light of Season 1.  So we wonder what happened with that dark spirit from the first season, that doesn’t seem to have been resolved.  We find that the plot where Melinda has to hide things from Deliah makes Deliah a less interesting character than Andrea was and want her back (or at least I do).   The seasons don’t seem to fit together, and yet it’s supposed to be one continuous story.  It’s a bit disconcerting.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the show doesn’t really do well to develop its own arcs, whether in a season or between seasons.  For the second season in a row, Season 3 tries to resolve its main arc in the last three episodes after mostly ignoring it for the entire season.  The big issue is over resolving Melinda’s parenthood issues, especially wrt her father, but we only get a little bit of that about mid-season, and while there’s a link to her brother from last season for most of the season he shows up once or twice with a hint that her father has some kind of devious plan for her.  The show implies that her father is dead, but her turns up still alive, and eventually it is revealed that he isn’t really her father, but her real biological father is someone that the guy she thought was her father — and who abandoned her — killed him because he was in love with Melinda’s mother, but since she is uncovering it which would get him sent to jail he tries to kill her but she is saved by the ghost of her biological father — who wanted revenge for being killed — who ends up killing him.  That’s definitely far more of a soap opera plot than we wanted, but more importantly it sidesteps all of the supernatural stuff and dream stuff that had been hinted at before.  It does allow Melinda to resolve her issues with her mother, but it’s a far too quick and messy way to resolve what is the main arc for the season.  They also set up a cliffhanger for the next season — as they did in Season 2 — with there being six people and five shadows, and the only reason that I’m interested in that at all is that so far the show has been pretty good at adding interesting supernatural lore, and so I’m hopeful that they will explain it as lore and not as something trivial like someone there is really dead, because the person who mentions it is the professor and, well, he can’t see ghosts so how would he see six people if one of them was a ghost?  (Unless, of course, he’s the one who’s actually dead …).

On that, the show elevates the professor to main credits, which means that he gets more attention and more time, which means that he takes time away from Deliah, which hurts both characters, because she needs more time to develop from the revelations of the previous season and she never gets that expect for an episode where her son Ned is the focus, and as I’ve said before I’m not that fond of the professor — named Payne, which is somewhat appropriate — and so would rather watch her, or at least a properly developed version of her.  They do resolve that issue with his wife from Season 2 … in one episode late in the season after having nothing else really reference it before then, and with it not really referencing her connection to the enemies that they went on to kinda ignore.  I didn’t mind the episode itself, but it came at an odd time and didn’t really pay off the dramatic hints from the previous season.

My biggest struggle with the series is, in fact, the secondary characters.  I don’t really care for any of them, but the worst part is that none of them really have a solid role to fit into.  As I’ve noted before, her husband is worried but supportive and can cause some issues with wanting to do things like go to medical school and have a child, but he’s far too prominent for a character who is basically just a really weak set of complications for Melinda as she goes around and helps ghosts cross over.  Very little is done with Deliah at all, let alone her being at first skeptical and later somewhat scared of ghosts.  She doesn’t even really get to be a sounding board for Melinda given her unease about the supernatural and the fact that Melinda’s husband needs to be given time, but again her issues don’t cause Melinda any significant problems.  The show did need an expert for Melinda to consult but he’s very annoying, Melinda doesn’t seem to like him very much as she snarks at him not in a teasing way but in a “You really annoy me and are an ass” way, and he doesn’t actually seem to know very much either.  He spouts off random supernatural facts that sometimes relate to what’s going on, but the facts are either too convenient or a bit misleading, and so Melinda still ends up doing the heavy lifting in the researching, and he doesn’t provide anything else.

Which leads to another issue with the show in general and this season in particular.  As the show itself notes, the ghosts are getting more powerful and more aggressive, and there are at least a couple of powerful supernatural opponents out there that oppose Melinda.  The issue is that Melinda just sees ghosts, and so has no actual defense against them, even in theory.  In an early episode, a pair of ghosts are threatening her and one of them has her in a chokehold and seems to be threatening to drag her away into the darkness, and all she can do is say that she isn’t scared of them, which, well, she is and that also doesn’t seem to take their power away in any way.  Now, it’d be a perfectly good approach to have the bad guys focus on force while she uses non-violent means, and while she does try to cross over ghosts peacefully the opposition are both too angry and evil to allow her to do that to them and are too willing to threaten her that way, highlighting how helpless she’d be if they, well, simply kept doing what they are doing to her.  A role for the expert character, then, would be to either be someone who could defend themselves — and therefore Melinda — from the more aggressive attacks, or else could teach her how to do that.  While the former would risk making that character more important to the resolution of the stories than Melinda, it would also allow the ghosts to threaten her when that character isn’t available while setting up suspenseful situations with them trying to get there in time and also forcing Melinda to face her fears as well.  And you could easily have the defense just be keeping it at bay allowing Melinda to cross them over her way.  But as it stands she seems to be facing ghosts that could cause her great physical harm if they wanted to and who seem to want to do that and yet for some reason don’t.  The normal ghosts are fine, as they could at least subconsciously want to be helped, but that doesn’t hold for the dark spirits.  Sure, they might prefer to corrupt her than kill her, but if that’s the case then a) that should be highlighted more often and b) the arcs should always be presented as plots by dark spirits to corrupt her, and they haven’t been so far.

In light of what I said above, though, I will give the show some credit for referencing her father in more episodes and so reminding us that the plot was out there.  My criticism is that the references rarely advance the plot, meaning that they have to develop and resolve the plot in the last three episodes, which is not enough time for a plot that was referenced throughout the entire season.

Now, after reading all of this, you might start to think that I really dislike the series.  But I don’t.  And the reason is that like last season in this season they still really manage to nail the sentimental stuff most of the time.  Yes, there are clunky episodes, but overall the stories of the ghosts, when tied to a sentimental outcome, work and evoke the emotions that they want to evoke in the stories.  What this means is that while when I started the series I was worried that it would be all sentimental and was pleasantly surprised that they had more horror and more arcs, right now I far prefer the standalone sentimental episodes — that make up most of the season — to the arc episodes because of how the show fumbles the arc episodes.  That being said, it’s not like the arcs are bad, but to use a “Great Canadian Baking Show” analogy they’re just a bit undercooked which means that the flavours don’t really stand out as much as they should.

So that’s the summary:  I like Melinda and her normal ghost crossing over plots, but find the secondary characters and the plot arcs underdeveloped and so disappointing.  Still, the show is good enough that it is still headed for my closet of things to rewatch every so often, and so it would take a terrible and disastrous season — in the vein of “The Nanny” or “Cheers” — for that to not happen.

Thoughts on “Silver Bullet”

July 7, 2022

So the third movie in that four-pack of Stephen King movies is “Silver Bullet”, which is King’s take on the werewolf legend.  It is narrated by the older sister of the boy that is arguably the main protagonist, who is crippled but has a motorized wheelchair thing built for him by his uncle to let him get around.  Well, it’s more like a go-kart or something like that than a mere wheelchair, and is called the “Silver Bullet”.  His sister is frustrated with him because he seems to be getting a lot of attention due to his disability and can cause frustrations for her and get away with it (one of the earliest scenes is a friend of his scaring her and getting her dress dirty while she was trying to flirt with a boy).  Oh, and at the same time there are some brutal killings happening, and late one night the two plots collide as the boy sneaks out to fire off some fireworks and runs into the killer, which as you might have guessed turns out to be a werewolf.  They need to convince their uncle that this is the case, figure out who the werewolf is, and then kill it with a silver bullet.

As with the other movies, it seems like there are a number of things that would work because King would let us in on the inner thoughts of the people involved but are missing here.  For example, why is the sister narrating and not the boy?  Why is the sister so easily frustrated with her brother when the only example that’s even close to him being mean to her is one that his friend did and that he was apologetic for?  What was the deal with the werewolf, anyway, who turned out to be the preacher who ended up trying to kill them off to hide his secret?  There are a number of details that probably should have been fleshed out that don’t really get fleshed out in this movie.

That being said, this movie is actually better than the others, mostly because of the actors.  They all do a pretty good job of making us care about their characters and want to follow what happens to them, and want to see them triumph at the end.  Special note goes to Megan Follows — known to everyone in Canada as “Anne of Green Gables” — who can make us empathize with the character even when it seems like she’s overreacting to what her brother is doing.

At the end of the day, though, it’s not a very memorable movie.  Other than my empathy for the characters given the performances of their actors, there’s nothing really new or interesting about the plot or the werewolf idea.  So, ultimately, it’s an okay movie that I might watch again at some point, but isn’t good enough to get into my regular rotation.