Thursday, September 29, 2011

Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week this week, so here's a nifty little overview of the top 10 challenged books in 2010 & a list of seventeen banned books you probably read as a child & the reasons why they were banned. Here are a few excerpts:

Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
Challenged for: Inappropriate themes, explicit sexuality and offensive language.
(I'm sorry, explicit sexuality? Offensive language? Have they *read* this book?)
Position on American Library Association List Of Banned Books 2010: #10

His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
Challenged for: Anti-religious/Christian propaganda; main characters drink and imbibe drugs (poppy).
Position on American Library Association List Of Banned Books 2000-2009: #8

The Hunger Games series by Susanne Collins
Challenged for: Being inappropriate for age group; desensitising children to murder; encouraged violence as entertainment; drug use.
Position on American Library Association List Of Banned Books 2010: #5

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Challenged for: Promoting witchcraft; main character has no moral story arc.
("Promoting witchcraft"? I think "Characters engage in the unsafe practice of flying brooms without helmets" would be more appropriate.)
Position on American Library Association List Of Banned Books 2000-2009: #1

I think it's really interesting that so many of the top 100 most challenged books in the last decade are young adult texts. It's like the Wall Street Journal article that caused such a ruckus a few months ago because it claimed that all young adult fiction was dark & damaging to teenage readers. If parents really think that if their children don't read about Bad Things then Bad Things won't happen to them, then they've clearly forgotten what it was like to be a child.

Reading about Bad Things doesn't make Bad Things happen, & nor does it make young people do Bad Things. I mean, I clearly grew up as an entirely disreputable, profane, sexually promiscuous satanic witchy wizard with acute religious uncertainty who is disrespectful to adults, sunbathes with her breasts partially exposed & who can't tell fantasy from reality, so you shouldn't take me as an example. Also I have no moral story arc & death is central to my plot. Hmm... Maybe the book banners have a point.

I can laugh about this because I was always encouraged to read anything I could get my hands on, & was quite heartened to discover that a good chunk of the list of banned literary classics I've read I studied in secondary school. But I know that other people aren't so lucky, & a lot of young readers are being denied certain books because the adults around them feel they're inappropriate, which I think is a great pity. I mean, I think the world could use a few more rebellious, disrespectful witches & wizards who don't wear helmets when playing Quidditch, but maybe that's just me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Important Life Lessons & Counting Sighs: The Vampire Diaries 3:2 Recap

Previously on The Vampire Diaries: all this stuff happened, & dramatic music played.

Once upon a time in Mystic Falls...

Damon puts pins in a map taped up on his wall as the news plays in the background, reminding us that his fake compelled girlfriend has been murdered. Although the news thinks it's either an accident or a suicide.

Life Lesson #1: Small vampire-infested towns are always oblivious to said vampire infestation. I mean, a couple students died in Sunnydale every day, & people's throats are getting ripped out all over Mystic Falls but no one seems to notice.

Elena has noticed, amazingly, & has put two & two together, & visits Damon because he's been dodging her calls. She wishes he'd told her about his dead fake compelled girlfriend but he says he didn't want to say anything because it was Elena's birthday. Which was so very happy anyway. Thank you, Damon!

Elena tells Damon that Stefan called her last night & that she got the sheriff to trace the call to Tennessee but Damon insists that Stefan is gone now "& not just geographically." He's doing that weird eye thing, so you know he means it.

Later that morning, somewhere that is not Elena's couch, Alaric is sleeping strategically shirtless. (You know, the kind of shirtless that doesn't have the covers pulled up, the kind that looks like he went to bed in his clothes but not his shirt). Also the button of his trousers isn't done up. Fangirls swoon.

(I have no idea what happened to Alaric's head in this screencap, but I'm just going to leave it as it is if that's okay.)

Elena is making the rounds this morning. She wants to know what Alaric knows about Stefan & Tennessee, because she Has Faith, not like Damon, & believes that Tortured Soul Stefan still exists inside Bad Boy Stefan's vertical-hair-topped body. Alaric plays the mentor card & tells Elena to stay out of it because it's not safe for her. He says Stefan's Off the Rails which just makes me think of a vampire-themed makeover show.

(That's a very Irish reference, sorry.)

Elena knows that Stefan would never give up on her, so she's never going to give up on him & I think we should start counting how many times Alaric sighs heavily every episode. So far, he's sighed twice.

Alaric sighs heavily (Sigh Count: 3) & finally tells Elena what she wants to know.

We then rejoin Stefan & Klaus in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee where Klaus is teasing Stefan about his brooding (thank you, Klaus!) & the whole scene looks like something out of Brokeback Mountain except that Stefan is carrying a dead werewolf across his shoulders.

The evil duo bicker good-naturedly for another few minutes before coming across the werewolf pack they've been looking for. A werewolf pack looks kind of like a very civilised music festival.

They drop the dead werewolf's body in the middle of the camp ground & About To Be An Important Character werewolf girl (you can tell she's about to become an important character because she's pretty & she looks like a cross between Elena & Anna, who was Jeremy's dead vampire girlfriend last season) crouches over his body & asks the evil duo to explain themselves.

Dramatic music plays. Klaus says: "My name is Klaus" & the music gets even more dramatic. I wish that happened whenever I introduced myself. About To Be An Important Character werewolf girl gasps because Klaus is The Hybrid (you know, like the title of the episode?) & the werewolves have heard of The Hybrid. Dun dun dunnnnnn...

Back in Mystic Falls, Tyler's mom is pouring herself a brandy & picking up one of the darts she used to shoot Caroline. (Shouldn't she already have gotten rid of the evidence?) She pours the contents of the dart into the coffee pot as Tyler bounds downstairs in happy morning-after-sex oblivion. She watches carefully as Tyler pours himself some coffee & tells him that Caroline sneaked out "like a prostitute" that morning. Tyler is a little surprised but not too put out by the fact that his vampire girlfriend allegedly sneaked out. Mostly he doesn't seem to mind that his mom knows he had a girl over, & minds even less that she's comparing said girl to a prostitute.

Is this the kind of look you'd give your mother in this situation?

Anyway. Tyler takes a large gulp of coffee, makes a face, & tells his mom the grain must be bad. His mom heaves an audible sigh of relief. Then Tyler leaves, informing his mother that Caroline is not a prostitute. Which is sort of like standing up for her.

When he's gone, Tyler's mom phones someone called Bill, & tells him she's gotten herself into a bit of a vampire situation.

We now go to Mystic Grill, the only eatery in town, where Matt ups the topless male count this episode to two. Only two? I suppose we're only seven minutes in.

Life Lesson #2: American boys are all thin, white & ridiculously muscled. It must be true if it's in The Vampire Diaries.

Jeremy wants to talk to Matt about the conversation they had last night, but Matt says the whole night was kind of a blur. Remember, they were going wild & smoked a joint! Then they had a heart-to-heart while giggling & eating ice-cream, because, remember, wild! He wants to talk to Matt about it & not his Good Witch Girlfriend Bonnie because he's worried what she mightn't like to know that since she brought him back from the dead he's been seeing the ghosts of his dead vampire ex-girlfriends. Which is kind of understandable.

Jeremy has Googled ghosts & shows Matt a pristine manilla folder of printed out information, because teenage boys totally do that in real life. He wants to make contact with Vicky's ghost.

Matt is reluctant at first, & thinks that Jeremy is messing with him, but they call each other "man" a few times & Matt comes around.

Meanwhile, detective Elena is continuing her rounds. Now, she's quizzing Tyler about werewolf behaviour. Tyler explains that when it's his time of the month, he chains himself up in his basement (kinky!) but says that not all werewolves are into bondage, & they prefer to roam wild & free in deserts or state parks or mountains like the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, for example, which he shows Elena on Google Maps on her iPhone.

Life Lesson #3: Werewolves these days are so tech-savvy.

At the other end of the bar, Alaric is drinking coffee. (Hold on a second, you mean they're not at Mystic Grill? You mean there's another place to hang out in Mystic Falls? It's a veritable metropolis now!) Elena comes over to him & proposes they go on a hike. Alaric can't believe that she wants to go chasing after a pack of werewolves on the full moon. Elena insists that they'll be well out of the Smoky Mountains by the time the moon is full, which of course they totally will...

Life Lesson #4: When you're chasing werewolves, there'll always be a full moon. And no, you won't get out of the mountains before it rises.

Alaric sighs (Sigh Count: 4). This time, I don't blame him.

Back in the Brokeback Smoky Mountains, Dead Flannel Werewolf has dramatically come back to life! Stefan faces the festival-goers werewolf pack & asks if any of them are human.

Life Lesson #5 Never admit to being human.

Klaus tells About To Be An Important Character werewolf girl that her options are a) join him, or b) die, & she says she'd rather b) than be a vampire.

Life Lesson #6: Never say you'd rather die than do something. It'll always end badly.

In this case, it ends with Klaus forcing her to drink his blood & then killing her & telling the other werewolves that she'll thank him for that later. Cause that's just the kind of swell fella Klaus is.

Back in our favourite eatery, Tyler is playing pool & Matt is serving him coffee. Tyler is a little concerned because he hasn't heard from Caroline all day, but Matt doesn't want to talk to him because Caroline's his ex & he doesn't like that she & Tyler are friends. Good thing he doesn't know about the horny vampire-werewolf sexual relations. Still, Matt is a Nice Guy & remembers that tonight is the full moon -

Life Lesson #7: Everyone in America automatically knows when it's the full moon.

- & that Caroline usually helps Tyler with his furry little problem on a full moon. Matt awkwardly offers to help Tyler himself but Tyler's a big werewolf now & says he can handle it. He also says the coffee tastes horrible & Matt explains that the sheriff makes him slip vervain into all the drinks every now & again. Tyler is shocked to discover that this is what vervain tastes like. He's realised that his mother put vervain in his coffee this morning!

We cut straight back to Tyler's house where his mom is entertaining the mysterious Bill. She pours herself another brandy & explains that she doesn't want to get her hands dirty but Bill reminds her that Caroline is a vampire now & Tyler's mom has gotta do what she's gotta do.

Back in the Big Rocky Candy Smoky Mountains we discover that Alaric & Elena made it to Tennessee in record time, because America is a tiny place. We also discover that Alaric is a boy scout turned vampire hunter turned whiskey-drinking Lost Cause. (Sigh Count: 4) If he weren't so emo, Alaric'd be pretty awesome. I mean, check out his Slayers Backpack:

Alaric gives Elena a wolfsbane grenade & Elena gives Alaric her dead biological father's ring (Sigh Count: 5) that used to belong to Alaric too somehow, & that will protect him from anything supernatural. I'm sorry, but magical Supernatural Protection Rings are just a cop-out. Also, they're ugly.

We also learn that Supernatural Protection Rings don't work on Elena because she's a doppelgänger (long story, one that'll probably come up again at a later date but I don't think we need to worry about it for this episode) which is also a cop-out.

Then, suddenly, Damon appears & throws Elena into the lake. Like a boss.

Good thing she was already changed into her bathing suit. (Why was she wearing a bathing suit to chase down some werewolves? We may never know.) Elena is Very Angry that Alaric sold her out to Damon but Alaric thinks she was crazy to believe he'd take her into a mountain range to chase werewolves on a full moon without backup. Also, he & Damon are now bros.

Meanwhile, Klaus & Too-Cool-For-School Stefan have infected & killed all the werewolves so that they can come back to life as hybrids. The hapless human they identified earlier is still alive - just about - but won't be when all the werewolf-vampire hybrids (Vampolfs? Werepires?) wake up craving blood. Every time one of them drains him Klaus uses his magical blood to bring the human back to life to be drained by the next werepire. Which is actually pretty creepy, well done again Vampire Diaries.

Klaus & Stefan chat about Klaus's Master Plan to create an army of werepire soldiers while Flannel Werepire completes his transformation. But look, something's wrong! Flannel Werepire is bleeding from his eyes! This wasn't part of the plan!

Life Lesson #8: That's never part of the plan.

Back at the other side of the forest, Elena is refusing to get out of the water because she knows when she does Damon will make her go home. Because Damon loves treating women like they're children. Instead, Damon wades into the water with her & tells her that she's being stupid because Klaus thinks she died when the curse was broken last season so just walking up to him in the middle of the mountains might be a tad unwise. Elena doesn't care - she hasn't been this close to Stefan since he left & she's not leaving without him. Damon is swayed by Elena's wet hair & bathing-suited proximity & agrees to find to Stefan before the full moon comes up. Because that's totally how it's going to happen.

At the werewolf camp, Flannel Werepire is still crying blood & the other hybrids are beginning to wake up. Suddenly, Flannel Werepire jumps up & runs away through the trees! He parcours over rocks! He bounds between trees! He turns somersaults! He's a veritable circus act! Stefan runs after him & tackles him to the ground, but Flannel Werepire bites his arm! Remember, werewolf bites are fatal to vampires! Exclamation marks!

Stefan's about to run after him when his Super-Sensitive Vampire Ears pick up the sweet sweet sound of Damon & Elena bickering. He sees them across the hill through the trees & looks particularly tortured for a while until Klaus comes up behind him & he rapidly switches back to regularly tortured.

Stefan quickly leads Klaus away from the hillside & tells him Flannel Werepire got away. But Klaus says he won't heal Stefan's werewolf bite with his Magic Hybrid Blood until Stefan finds the werepire & brings him back. In the camp, all the new werepires are now crying blood. See Life Lesson #8.

Back in Mystic Falls, Tyler confronts his mom about the vervain-laced coffee. She admits she knows that Carloline's a vampire but won't tell Tyler where she is. She tells him he can't be with Caroline because she's a monster but she doesn't know that Tyler is a monster too!

Meanwhile in the Forbidden Smoky Mountains, the sun is about to set & our vampire-hunting trio are still in the forest, because of course. A figure emerges from between the trees, & it's Flannel Werepire, because of course. He attacks Damon, because of course. Elena throws Damon the wolfsbane grenade & Damon wolfsbanes Flannel Werepire's face off. Poor Flannel Werepire, he didn't ask for any of this.

Back in Mystic Falls, Matt is showing Jeremy Vicky's old stuff in his attic. They're looking for personal items to communicate with Vicky's ghost. Matt finds a picture of him & Vicky as kids & gets upset & bails on Jeremy's ghosthunt & asks him to leave. Jeremy shuts the door behind him & the attic gets real dark. You can tell the ghosts are coming because of the eerie music, & the fact that the photo Matt put face-down on a chest is now standing up again. That's generally a dead giveaway. (Gettit, dead giveaway? I'll go stand over here now.)

In the mountains, the trio have tied poor Flannel Werepire to a tree. They've used all their vervain on the ropes, which is definitely not going to come back to haunt them. Suddenly, Flannel Werepire begins to change! But it's still daylight! The ropes will never hold the wolf! Elena finally sees sense & says that they need to get out of these mountains - now!

Back at Base Camp Werepire, the new hybrids are all looking a lot like zombies. Nearby, the vampire hunting trio are finally running away, but Elena trips & falls.

Life Lesson #9: When running away, girls always trip & fall.

Damon yells at her not to move; she looks up & there's a CGI wolf right in front of her face! Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Damon calls the doggie's attention & runs away as fast as his super-fast vampire legs can carry him, to lure the wolf away from Elena. Unfortunately, now that means that Elena & Alaric are down a vampire. Elena wants to go back & help Damon but Alaric yells at her & they wisely continue their running away. Chekov's Moon rises.

Back in Mystic Falls, Tyler is bringing his mom down into his kinky werewolf bondage dungeon. As you do. He locks her in a cage (for her own protection, of course) & he ties himself up just in time to start changing & show his mom what kind of monster he really is.

In the Misty Smoky Mountains, Damon is fighting with Flannel Werepire & trying very hard not to get bitten. Just as the werepire is about to sink his teeth into Damon's neck, Stefan appears! He clobbers the werepire on the back of the head with a rock - how would that even work? - oh, no, that's not a rock, & he didn't clobber him & that wasn't the back of his head. He totally just ripped his heart out with his bare hands. Nice.

Okay, I have to admit this is pretty cool.

Damon calmly says "fancy meeting you here" by way of thanks & Stefan gives out to him for continuing to follow him. Damon tells him that if he doesn't want to be followed she should stop crank-calling his girlfriend in the middle of the night. Fair enough, Damon. Stefan says that Elena needs to forget about him because he's never coming home (yeah, right) & charges Damon with keeping Elena there. Because there's nothing like conspiring with your brother to watch over the woman you love's every move.

Said woman is currently waiting in a car with Alaric, voicing her frustration at having to wait in a car. Also, is a parked car really the safest place to wait? Can't hybrid werepires break through steel? Ignoring this, Elena & Alaric have a heart to heart about Being Lost & not having a family & needing to stick together. Yawn. (Sigh Count: I'm not gonna lie, I lost count after 5.) Finally Damon reappears & manhandles Elena back into the car when she comes out to make sure he's okay. Stefan watches from the top of the hill with a vaguely tortured expression. Stefan's expressions range from vaguely tortured to especially tortured but don't seem to stray from the tortured spectrum.

Elena thinks she sees something up on the hilltop but by the time the camera pans back, Stefan is gone. Elena is Very Sad. It's like tortured, but for humans. Tortured Lite.

Back in Mystic Falls, Matt calls to Jeremy's house to apologise for having bailed on the ghost hunt. He brings over some beers & a bag full of Vicky's personal stuff. They talk about not remembering their last moments with Vicky & suddenly Vicky's right there behind them. Matt can neither see nor hear her & asks Jeremy to translate her ghost-speak but Jeremy doesn't know quite how to tell him his sister believes they can help her return from the dead. Again.

Life Lesson #10: Nobody. Ever. Stays. Dead.

Suddenly, a window smashes! And Anna appears! And she tells Jeremy not to trust Vicky! Whatever will happen next?

Next, we cut back to the forest, where Stefan returns to Klaus with a twice-dead Flannel Werepire over his shoulders. His werewolf bite stings something fierce. Klaus is upset because his werepire army is all dead. I guess that werewolf girl wasn't About To Be An Important Character after all. I guess there are no male characters left for her to be the love interest of. Klaus smashes some beer bottles & yells at the sky, because that's what werepires do when they're upset. He runs through all the things he was told to do to be able to turn werewolves into werepires & realises that the only thing that could've gone wrong is if he hadn't properly killed the doppelgänger. (Silly Klaus, don't you know by now that nobody actually dies in this show?) Uh oh, now Klaus knows that Elena is still alive! Will he refuse to heal Stefan's werewolf bite? For a moment it looks like will... but then he tears a chunk out of his hand & bleeds into a bottle of Bud & hands it to Stefan. Stay classy, Klaus.

And now it's time for another Deep & Meaningful emo pop song closing scene!

In this week's scene the song is about there not being anyone around & not hearing a sound & Stefan downs the beer bottle of blood & follows Klaus through the corpse-strewn camp ground. Cut to Elena's house where Damon is brooding by the curtains & the song is about not knowing where the world is & missing you now. He tells Elena that she was right & Tortured Stefan hasn't been lost to his vertical-haired alter-ego. He says Stefan can be saved because he didn't let Damon die & the song is about being on the edge & screaming your name. Damon confronts Elena about having uncharacteristically let him lead her away from the forest that night despite not having found Stefan & she confesses that she did it because she didn't want to see him get hurt. She asks why he needs her to say that she worries about him & Damon takes her face in his hands & tells her that when he brings his brother back he wants her to remember everything she felt while he was gone. They stare into each other's eyes & the song is about shadows & just wanting to feel alive. Alaric comes up the stairs with a suitcase to move into an actual bedroom this time & witnesses the sexual tension. He asks Elena if she knows what she's doing & she says that no, she doesn't, & the song is all about echoes.

Cut to Tyler's werewolf bondage room where he wakes up naked & his mom is watching him from the floor of the cage (which isn't creepy at all) & she tells him she'll take care of it & will make sure nothing happens to Caroline & the song goes all instrumental because this is a Very Touching Moment.

Then we fade out to this week's post-emo-pop-song-dramatic-montage cliffhanger scene. Tyler's mom has called Bill to entreat him to let Caroline go & to suggest that maybe they've been wrong about vampires simply being monsters, but he's having none of it because his family have been hunting vampires for 150 years. He hangs up on her & she puts her head in her hands.

Cut to a cell somewhere where Caroline is waking up chained to a chair. She calls out for Tyler's mom but there's nobody there. Suddenly, she hears a sound. Someone's coming! She gets scared. A Dark Figure approaches. The cell door opens & Bill steps inside. The dramatic music builds & builds & builds until Caroline looks up & says: "Daddy?"

Dun dun dunnnnn...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Very Sad Song for a Very Sad Scene

Do you know what's been in my head for the last week? That's right, the dramatic emo pop song that played over the dramatic last scene of last week's Vampire Diaries. So I'm sharing it here so you can all suffer with me. I think it bears mentioning that my Youtube search directed me to SadSongChannel1. Enjoy.

(Disclaimer: I actually quite enjoy emo pop songs, but am very happy to make fun of them at the same time. Especially if they feature on The Vampire Diaries.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Important Life Lessons & Every Cliché in the Book: The Vampire Diaries 3:1 Recap

I'm a couple days late with this because I was busy fetching a rescue kitten & assorted kitten paraphernalia with my family-in-law for my sister-in-law's birthday (I realise I'm not married yet, but it's much easier to say "sister-in-law" than "my friend & ex-housemate who is also my fiancé’s older brother's girlfriend") but fear not, if by some chance or unfortunate trick of fate you didn't see the first episode of the new series of The Vampire Diaries last Thursday, boy are you in for a treat. I have recapped the entire episode in all its glory just so you don't have to watch it! See how nice I am?

Previously on The Vampire Diaries: Elena is the main character! Stefan & Damon are vampire brothers! They are both in love with her! Damon is Crazy & Impulsive; he's the Bad Boy with a heart of gold! Stefan mostly mopes.

Klaus is the bad guy! He's a vampire born of werewolf blood! Werewolf bites are fatal to vampires but Caroline (who is a blond vampire & Elena's friend) is totally dating a werewolf! This one time, a werewolf bit Damon & he would've died but Klaus's blood is the antidote to werewolf bites & he let Damon have some on the condition that Stefan leave home & come with him on his Evil Mission to create an army of vampire-werewolf hybrids! Are you confused yet? No? Okay, let's go!

Cliché count #1: horror film opening scene cliché! It's night. Scantily-Clad Blonde Girl's dog hasn't come home. She looks for him in the garden, complaining of the heat. ("See, feminist viewers? That's why I'm scantily clad. You would be too if you lived in this town. Don't be so quick to judge.") A tall, dark, handsome stranger approaches her. His car broke down a few miles away. His phone battery is dead. He needs to call a garage.

Okay. Let's revisit some of the previous Life Lessons we learned in the last two seasons. Life Lesson #1: If someone asks to be invited into your house, they are a vampire. Don't let them in.

Thankfully, Scantily-Clad With Good Reason Blonde Girl (whose handle is getting a bit long at this point) reads this blog, & has taken my lessons to heart. Also, she's from Florida. Country people are trusting; people from Florida know the score.

Life Lessons from Florida Girl: If a stranger says his car has broken down & his cell phone's out of battery & he asks to use your phone, don't let him in the house, bring the phone out to him instead. He's only saying he's not a serial killer because he's a vampire. Unfortunately, vampires have magic mesmerising eyes & you're going to end up inviting him into your house anyway where he will threaten you & your housemate until you tell him where your often-absent werewolf housemate is & then he'll get his friend to kill you both. Kinda makes you wonder why he even bothered with the car-breaking-down story in the first place.

Life Lesson #3: If it's nighttime & your dog hasn't come home yet, just leave him outside. He can come back inside in the morning.

The friend I mentioned in the last paragraph is none other than our favourite tortured teenage vampire, the mopey-eyed, vertical-haired Stefan Salvatore! In this season, Stefan is evil. You can tell the second he walks in the door because his hair is more vertical than it was last season & he looks more constipated than mopey. 

He's like a cross between Jedward & Edward Cullen.

You can also tell he's evil because he's running around with Evil English Klaus & killing innocent girls. But it's mostly the hair.

One thing I like about this show is that it doesn't have a theme tune or an opening sequence. You just get the title on the screen, dripping a few drops of blood in case you didn't understand what "vampire" means, & then it's right back into the action with a nice, popular indie/emo song.

In this scene, we reconnect with our main character, Elena, & her little brother Jeremy as they wake up & set about their days, staring mournfully into the distance at regular intervals to remind us that they may seem like normal teenagers but they're Been Through A Lot.

Caroline the Once-Annoying, who is now a vampire like all the other vampires walking about in sunlight, meeting up with their werewolf boyfriends, shopping & talking to their bffs on the phone, fills Elena in on all the local "animal attack" deaths that may be the handiwork of her boyfriend. Most importantly, though, she's planning her a party. It's a birthday party. It's her birthday party. Happy birthday darling. We love you very very very very very very very much. </Bright Eyes reference - hey, it seemed fitting>

Elena & Alaric (her history teacher come now-dead-vampire-aunt's boyfriend, who has been living on her couch all summer) talk about the possibility of Stefan being dead vs being with Klaus & killing people left right & centre, & Alaric wishes Elena a happy birthday & Elena heads out. We know it's not going to be a happy birthday, after the first part of the conversation.

Meanwhile, Damon is lying in a bubble bath, drinking champagne. Because Damon knows what being a vampire's really about. He finishes the bottle & tells his compelled journalist girlfriend to get him more. She tells him he can get it himself because she's not his slave, which is funny because as she's being magically mesmerised to be with him against her will, she kind of is. But Damon fetches his own champagne, because there's only room for one Bad Boy vampire in this series, & his brother's vertical hair has currently got that covered.

Cliché count #2: Rom-com cliché! Elena comes in & bumps into Damon, who is naked but for bubble-bath suds! She covers her eyes & throws him a towel & he smirks & I should make a list of films in which the accidentally-walking-in-on-someone-naked-because-they-can't-be-bothered-with-towels-after-showers trope features. Does that even happen in real life? If it has happened to you, please, share your stories! And next time you get out of the shower, put on a towel.

In this scene, we learn that Stefan's been AWOL for two months, & that the Sheriff has given Elena & Damon all the leads she can but they've all been dead ends. We also learn that Ian Somerhalder still does that weird thing with his eyes that I think means he's trying to look sincere.

Back in town, Jeremy is at work at Mystic Grill, which is apparently the only eatery in town & also the only place any of the characters ever work. He's having a video call with his Good Witch Girlfriend, Elena's best friend Bonnie. She makes the mistake of telling him that a summer job is good for him because he needs some normal in his life.

Life Lesson #4: Supernatural creatures all have an inbuilt sensor that can pick up phrases like "you need a bit of normal in your life" or "it's a good thing everything's back to normal now" spoken at any volume within a fifty mile radius.

The lights in the stock room flash: a ghost approaches! It's Jeremy's Drugged-Up-Party-Girl-Turned-Vampire now-staked ex-girlfriend, Vicky! But in another flash of stock room light, she's gone. Jeremy is understandably shaken. He bends down to pick up another box when his other staked-vampire-turned-ghost ex-girlfriend, Anna, appears! She reaches out to touch him but at that very moment Matt (for those who don't remember, Matt is Vampire Caroline's ex & Vampire-Turned-Ghost Vicky's brother) appears to call him to wait tables. Phew!

Life Lesson #5: Avoid dating too many dead vampire chicks. They'll invariably come back to haunt you.

Caroline & Werewolf Tyler (who used to be a jock jerk who slept with Matt's mother but is now a Nice Guy because it turns out he wasn't really being a jerk because he was a werewolf all along, which totally makes sense) are having lunch at Mystic Grill, because there's nowhere else to eat in this town. They're not actually boyfriend & girlfriend (yet) but their parents think they are & secretly they totally want to be.

Meanwhile, in a bar in another small town, Klaus has found his werewolf. You can tell he's a werewolf because he has facial hair & is wearing a check shirt. Stefan shows the werewolf how badass he is by ordering Scotch on the rocks & threatening him with a wolfsbane drinking game.

The following day, Alaric & Damon arrive at Scantily-clad-but-now-dead Blond Girl's beautiful white house.

Seriously, isn't it just beautiful? Damon doesn't want Elena to know they're following leads but Alaric doesn't like keeping things secret, which is understandable seen how well keeping secrets worked for him last season.

Inside the beautiful white house, things are quiet... Too quiet. The dead girls are sitting on the couch, covered in blood, & Damon recognises their deaths as Stefan's handiwork because they are torn apart limb from limb & put neatly back together, & "there's a reason he used to be called the Ripper." Not cool, Vampire Diaries. You do not steal Rupert Giles' nickname for a stupid mopey vampire. Shame on you!

Back in Mystic Falls, Elena knows Damon's holding out on her. (For leads on Stefan, don't be dirty!) Tyler thinks Damon doesn't want to find his brother because he's in love with Elena & that his head's a bit messed up because Elena kissed him that one time when she thought he was going to die. Elena doesn't like Tyler's hypothesis.

Uh-oh, Caroline isn't happy because Tyler's bringing a date to the party. Slutty Sophie is the name of his date, but he doesn't mind Caroline calling her that because he's only taking her because it's been "kinda slow in that department lately" & because he's a werewolf now he's horny all the time. Poor Sophie's really got herself a great guy there.

But Caroline's horny too! She tells Tyler it's a Vampire Thing & he explains that his horniness is a Werewolf Thing & yay bonding over mutual horniness that leads to unresolved sexual tension!

Back at the Pretty White House Alaric & Damon are burning the evidence of Stefan's crimes (Nooo! Not the Pretty White House!) where they discover a Secret Werewolf Trapdoor. Now they know why Stefan & Klaus were snooping about!

Meanwhile, in the bar in the other small town, the evil duo are torturing the werewolf, by using him as a dartboard, for information on his pack. The other occupants of the bar are compelled not to notice the blood & screams, & seeing them go about their evening in the background is actually pretty creepy. Well done, Vampire Diaries! Klaus knows that Damon's on their trail & wants to kill him, but Stefan would prefer go himself & make sure his brother doesn't bother them again. See, he's still a good guy underneath the evil hair!

In Mystic Falls, Elena is getting dressed for the party & being sad. Damon gives Elena a necklace she thought she'd lost to go with the dress. This makes her a bit happier.

Cliché count #3: Romance cliché! Man gives a necklace to the woman he loves; she brushes aside her hair & asks him to tie it for her. In romance films, girls don't know how to tie their own necklaces.

Cliché count #4: High School film cliché! Good Girl's best friend throws her a party & says "of course" when Good Girl asks that it be a small party. Resulting party is a kegger!

Yay drunk extras! True story: I was once a drunk extra in a TV show. It was a lot of fun. You have to dance to no music & take off your shoes in case the boom mic picks up the noise of your heels.

Jeremy & Matt are out of control! You can tell because they're lighting up a joint. They commiserate over their hard lives. Jeremy wins the Dramatic Life Story award by virtue of seeing dead girlfriends.

Meanwhile, in the news studio, Damon's compelled girlfriend is on the phone. You can tell she works in TV because she says things like "can we do this in the AM? I have a party to go to." She is the last person leaving & almost all the lights are out. Do you think it may be time for a cliché?

Cliché count #5: Horror movie cliché! Blond Woman is the last person left in the building! Almost all the lights are out. It's up to her to lock up. Suddenly, a light turns on! She says "hello?" about twelve times. She asks who's there. She says it's not cool/funny when no one answers. She begins to get scared. She hears footsteps. She says "hello?" a few more times. Suddenly, she starts to run. She falls over. A Dark Figure approaches...

It would appear that Stefan's method of getting his brother out of his hair is by going after his girlfriend. Because that's original.

Back at the keg party, Caroline is drinking rum from the bottle & watching Tyler dance with Slutty Sophie. When they come up to her, Caroline compels Sophie to leave the party & Tyler pretends not to understand why.

Damon gets a call from his "fake compelled girlfriend" (Alaric's words this time, not mine) & goes to rescue her. Elena & Caroline are both hiding in Damon's bedroom - Caroline because she needs a baggie of human blood & Elena because she's too busy being sad to party. She's Super Sad because everyone just wants her to get on with her life & eat birthday cake & stuff & she just wants to find her homicidal moping boyfriend. That's when she finds Damon's Secret Stash of Clues! She figures out that Damon's been tracking Stefan without her!

Meanwhile, the Damon in question arrives at the news studio to find his fake compelled girlfriend & finds his brother instead. Stefan wants Damon to let him go & when Damon says he can't do that because of Elena, Stefan compels Damon's now twice-compelled girlfriend to jump off the light rigging to her death. Stefan thinks this is kinda cool. Now, we all know that vampire blood has Super Healing Powers & that it has brought at least six characters back from the dead so far, but Fake Compelled Girlfriend isn't an important enough character for this to even cross Damon's mind. Instead, he bends over her body & looks slightly put out as dramatic music plays.

Back at the party, Matt & Jeremy are getting ready to drive home. If there's one thing I've learned from watching shows like Gilmore Girls & The Vampire Diaries it's that Americans all drink & drive. Maybe this is true. I don't know. I do know that neither of these kids is in a fit state to drive home.

Jeremy gets into his car & the ghost of his ex-girlfriend appears in the passenger seat. See, way too stoned to drive. Vicky wants Jeremy to help him but she disappears before telling him how or why, as Matt decides to take Jeremy up on the offer to drive him home. When Jeremy turns on his headlights, however, Ghost Anna appears right in front of his car. Matt can't see the dead vampire & asks Jeremy what's wrong, which prompts him to do the right thing & decide to walk home. That's a good, responsible, underage drink-driver right there.

Inside the house, the party's still going & Caroline's still mad at Tyler who's still pretending not to know why. That is, until he confronts her about it & they end up kissing as hungrily as only a horny vampire & a horny werewolf can. Which is to say like any normal teenager, really.

Damon returns home & goes straight to his bedroom where an annoyed Elena waves his Secret Stash of Clues in his face & gives out to him from keeping things from her. Damon finally cracks & tells her that Stefan's a ripping killing machine & that she's an idiot for thinking he'd ever come home. This scene is mostly comprised of that weird eye thing that Ian Somerhalder does. It's really very distracting.

At Jeremy & Elena's house, Jeremy & Matt have the munchies. Because, remember, they smoked a joint because they are so out of control. It's important to remember these things. Their giggles dissipate when Jeremy tells Matt he's been seeing the ghost of his dead vampire sister. In fairness, that'd put a dampener on most evenings. Matt doesn't buy the whole ghost business (because you know, witches & werewolves & vampires are fine, but you have to draw the line somewhere) & thinks Jeremy just misses Vicky. Jeremy humours him & lets him leave with the ice cream.

Back in the bar in the small town far far away, Klaus is still torturing the plaid-wearing werewolf. He forces him to drink his blood, then slits his throat. Stefen returns, still pretending to be Angel in season two of Buffy & failing miserably. Klaus knows that no matter how high Stefan's hair gets, he still cares for his brother & for his old life, & he advises Stefan to drink more human blood, because it makes it easier for him to let go of his emotions. Stefan mostly looks into the middle distance trying to look tortured.

The final scene in every Vampire Diaries episode is brought to us by today's favourite emo pop song. It plays dramatically as the scene cuts dramatically between all the main characters doing dramatic things. The lyrics are always Deep & Meaningful. In this week's scene the song seems to be about drops in the ocean & not being able to sleep & Alaric is packing because he's not a role model for Elena & Jeremy. Also his dead vampire girlfriend's face is all over the house. Cut to Caroline's house, where she & Tyler engage in horny werewolf-vampire sexual relations & the song talks about ending up together & holding you closer. Cut to Damon's house, where Damon is trashing the place, because that's what proper vampires do when they're sad, & the song lyrics are more or less drowned out by the smashing. Cut to the small town far far away where Stefan storms out of the bar & looks tortured while the song says something about rain in a desert & someone being someone else's heaven, then he takes a baggie of human blood out of his back pocket pocket. Cut back to Elena's house where she picks up her birthday card (see Elena, we told you it wouldn't be a happy birthday) & looks at it sadly & the song now seems to be about god & trusting old friends. Stefan calls Elena's phone from a new cell & doesn't say anything when she answers. She guesses that the unknown caller phoning her in the middle of the night is her homicidal vampire boyfriend & tells him he's going to be okay as he makes duck lips at his phone which I think means he's upset. Or tortured. If in doubt about any of Stefan's emotions, it's usually safe enough to assume he's feeling tortured. 

Elena whispers to Stefan that she loves him, & that he should never let that go. And the song tells us that you are my heaven.

But wait! We thought this was the end & that the credits would begin to roll but no! There is another scene! This is the typical Vampire Diaries post-emo-pop-song-dramatic-montage cliffhanger scene. Darn, just when we thought it was over. In this scene, Caroline wakes up next to Tyler & sneaks downstairs while he's still asleep but runs into his mother in the hall. Awkward... She goes to get her purse but it somehow burns her hand! And then Mrs Lockwood shoots her in the back! Whatever will happen next? Find out in next week's episode of The Vampire Diaries!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Synthesisers & Billowy Drapes: Serious Academic Notes on The Hunger

Ever wondered what a Serious Academic's approach to watching a studied film is? Well wonder no more, because for some reason instead of taking Serious Academic Notes (okay fine, as well as) while watching Tony Scott's The Hunger for the section on fear of ageing in my thesis, I decided to take Actual Mental Notes instead. So this is, pretty much verbatim, what I thought of The Hunger while I was watching it.

For those who are not vampire enthusiasts & do not necessarily know these things, The Hunger (1983) tells the story of Miriam (Catherine Deneuve), an elegant vampire whose lover John (David Bowie), a younger vampire, suddenly begins to age rapidly after centuries of being thirty years old. John approaches Sarah (Susan Sarandon), a doctor & leading researcher in premature ageing, but she can do nothing to help him. When John wastes away Miriam sets her sights on Sarah & promises her eternal youth if she will be hers forever & ever. The rest of this post contains spoilers, but mostly it contains screencaps & my thoughts about this whole 80s vampires business.

The film opens with - what else - Bella Lugosi is Dead. It's ironic, you see, because Bela Lugosi played Dracula & Dracula was a vampire & vampires are dead. Undead, undead, undead.

Oh Bauhaus! Oh Bowie! Watching this movie is like being fifteen again & it's only three minutes in.

The 80s: it was all cigarettes, leather & ominous music. I know this because I was alive for half of it. I don't remember it having this much blood though... So far we know that David Bowie & Catherine Deneuve go to clubs & then kill people. Sexily. Meanwhile, Susan Sarandon researches monkeys, less sexily. We are invited, with great subtlety, to draw comparisons between the rage-filled cannibal monkeys & the classy, elegant vampires.

People can smoke through veils? That's impressive. Maybe it's just Catherine Deneuve. Although I still have trouble seeing her as anything other than Peau d'Âne...

So although he & his Donkey Skin have killed leather-clad clubbers & drank their blood, David Bowie is troubled.

I would love to see a man actually wear silk pyjamas. I should buy some for Alan.

And the soundtrack goes like this: Classical music! This is classical music because these are classy people!

Everybody loves a good flashback! In this one we learn that Catherine Deneuve & David Bowie will be together forever & ever. If it's in a flashback it has to be true. Also, David Bowie is still troubled. You can tell he's troubled because there are billowy drapes:

Miriam & John are musicians. They practice with a spunky young neighbour & maybe it's just the blue tones of the set or the classical music or the fact that ancient vampires are hanging out with a pre-pubescent kid but there's something a little bit creepy about this friendship.

At this point I took some Actual Academic Notes about ageing & thought that I'm glad this film isn't particularly subtle because that makes my job a lot easier.

Were all kids in the 80s so androgynous? I was convinced Alice was a boy until Miriam said her name.

We come back to Doctor Sarah, who is going to explain about vampirism through the metaphor of monkeys. Her monkeys are ageing at an accelerated rate. I wonder what this could possibly mean for our vampire friend John? Could that possibly be why he is troubled? Myriam goes to see Dr Sarah at her book signing, & bewitches her with her veil. Meanwhile, John's hair starts falling out.

According to Sarah, sleep affects how healthy your blood is, & your blood affects how fast or slowly you age. So the more you sleep, the less you'll age. That makes sense to me; I take a lot of naps & I look about ten years younger than I am. I suppose I must be a vampire.

John tells Miriam that he can't sleep, & that his hair is falling out. We discover that Myriam had other lovers (many other lovers, & some of them female, oh my), before John, who suffered the same fate as he is suffering now. This fate took a few days to fully manifest but when it did, the lovers allegedly aged rapidly because they couldn't sleep. (Beware, sufferers of insomnia, you too may be diseased vampires.) John doesn't know what to do.

Oh the synthesisers! I wish I could take a screencap of the sound of this film. With the synthesiser, the above screencap reads: "What am I going to do to do to do to do?" It's quite difficult to take that kind of an echo seriously. Also, drapes.

Same drapes, different flashback. Miriam has felt this pain before, with any number of historical lovers.

Dr Sarah believes that ageing may be a disease that can be cured. John goes to see her in the hope that she will cure his accelerated ageing, but unsurprisingly she thinks he's not well in the head. Nobody's ever really crazy, Sarah, didn't you know that? Mentally ill people are really just vampires. I've learned this from so many vampire texts I'm surprised you don't know this already.

Also, this film is mostly made up of the clacking of shoes (sometimes I wish I wore heels).

Creepy decaying monkey! Because everybody needs a picture of a decaying monkey on a Wednesday morning. John, sitting for much longer than the promised fifteen minutes in Sarah's waiting room, is ageing visibly & very rapidly. Just like the monkey.

When Sarah witnesses John's extreme transformation, she says those unwise words that may just have doomed her with half the film left to go: "I'm going to find out [what's caused this] if it kills me."

A lot of the questions in this film can be answered by "because the 80s." For example: Q. Why is this five minute sequence of a person rollerblading alone to a ghettoblaster in the middle of an abandoned building in this film? A. Because the 80s.

In a spectacular display of bad timing, Alice shows up at John & Miriam's house a day before they had planned to practice together, & Miriam is away. The androgynous child wears a skirt (& legwarmers of course - Q. Why legwarmers? A. Because the 80s) yet still manages to look like one of the Hanson brothers.

And the soundtrack goes like this: CLASSICAL MUSIC, THIS IS CLASSICAL MUSIC PEOPLE!

Alice rings the doorbell & suddenly-old John, who doesn't want her to come in, tells her: "there's nobody here." I didn't know people over five ever fell for that. He lets her in anyway, & proceeds to smile sadly & knowingly whenever she asks if he is John's father (which she does about three times).

And the soundtrack goes like this: Classical mu-- SYNTHESISER!

John convinces Alice to play a piece for him while he walks around her fondling the front of his shirt. Alice has just told him that she loves Myriam ("she's my best friend") & John himself ("I love him. He's just hard to figure out.") & they have bonded over a chord & yet when you see her continue to play despite the fact that there's some serious fear growing in her eyes you know he's going to kill her. This scene would be the creepiest thing ever if it weren't for that bloody synthesiser.

Every good vampire should have a furnace in their basement.

Miriam returns & doesn't seem to mind that John has killed their young neighbour & her alleged best friend. He did a pretty good job of cleaning up after himself, in fairness. John begs Miriam to release him & let him die, but Miriam explains gently that a little side-effect of immortality is that you can't actually die. Instead, you live on in your ever-ageing, ever-deteriorating body for the rest of eternity, or until you turn to dust, whichever comes first. 

Yep, living forever sounds appropriately horrible. Do you hear that, Stephenie Meyer?

John falls down the stairs because he is too feeble to walk. Miriam gathers him into her arms & brings him up to her billowy, drapey, dove-filled attic that is also filled with coffins.

Then, Miriam introduces her decomposing - but still somehow living - lover to all her other lovers who lie rotting - but STILL ALIVE - in coffins in her attic. But hey, at least there are doves.

Meanwhile, Sarah is hallucinating Miriam while getting out of the shower. Her boyfriend is none the wiser.

I'd be scared too if I had crazy 80s lighting in my bathroom.

Sarah leaves her boyfriend & her scary bathroom & goes to visit Miriam to see if she can bring John back to her clinic to run some tests. Miriam tells her that John is in Switzerland (it's the "nice big farm in the country" of vampires), invites her into her enormous home & offers her sherry.

"Are you making a pass at me Mrs Blaylock?" asks Sarah, noticing Miriam's flirting tone. No Sarah, she just wants to keep you forever in a coffin in her attic with her other not-actually-dead-but-still-rotting lovers. But hey, there are doves!

And the soundtrack goes like this: CLASSICAL MUSIC!

Sarah: Oops, I just spilled blood-like sherry on my shirt! I will now have to show you that I'm not wearing a bra while wetting my tshirt unnecessarily to clean it even though you're totally going to lend me your shirt anyway so that I'll take my top off! Good thing I chose to wear nipple today. I mean white...

This film is very subtle.

And the soundtrack goes like this: OPERA! It's like classical music, but with voices!

Billowing drapes sex scene! Because whenever anyone has sex there are billowy drapes. The drape industry knows no recession!

(Slightly more seriously, I recently read a very interesting passage about this film in Nina Auerbach's Our Vampires, Ourselves that talks about the fragmentation & fetishisation of women's bodies & how clothed, Myriam & Sarah are very different, but with the broken-up images & the camera angles & those bloody billowy drapes it's difficult to distinguish one from the other when they're naked.)

Soon, however, the women are whole again & it's the morning after & Sarah is at a restaurant with her boyfriend & RARE STEAK, GUYS, LOOK, SHE'S EATING RARE STEAK! It's like bloody, lesbian sex on a plate!

Question time! Q. What's the number one way to find out that your girlfriend is a vampire? (Hint: it's not "because the 80s," although that answer works too...)

I was just about to say that I was beginning to miss the constant smoking of the first half of this film when this scene happened. Post-steak cigarette, anyone?

Boyfriend asks Sarah where she got the pretty Egyptian necklace she's wearing & is surprised to learn that it was a gift from Miriam. He also finds it a little strange that Sarah spent five hours "just talking" with a woman she'd just met. What kind of woman gives jewellery to a woman she barely knows? A "European" woman, that's who.

"She's that kind of woman. She's... European." Is that what they're calling it these days?

Sarah isn't feeling well. She can't eat even though she's ravenous, & she throws up at night. Boyfriend brings her to her own clinic where a fellow sleep disorder/ ageing specialist tells her that she has two strains of blood in her veins, both fighting for dominance... & one of those strains isn't human. Would the bloodletting sex with a vampire have anything to do with that? I think we need to see another flashback to really understand.

Sarah skips her appointment with a specialist to go to Miriam's house & shout at her for having infected her with vampire blood. Miriam thinks Sarah's ungrateful & believes she shouldn't attack her in her own stately home, which is a fair point, really. Miriam just wanted to give Sarah the gift of eternal life (most of which'll be spent rotting in a coffin). Who wouldn't be grateful for that?

You can tell she's getting angry because her hair is out of place. (Does that mean that I'm angry all the time?) Miriam tells Sarah that even if she tries to leave she'll be back, that soon The Hunger (you know, like the name of the film) will know no reason, & she'll need Miriam to show her how to feed.

Sarah storms out & tries to hail a taxi or call her doctor boyfriend but The Hunger knows no reason & she needs to feed so she returns to Miriam all shaky & weak.

Q. Why is that lady wearing a green plastic trenchcoat & granddad-waisted jeans? A. Because the 80s of course!

And the soundtrack goes like this: SYNTHESISER!

Miriam picks up a prostitute dude to feed to her new vampire. She even kills him first - like a mother bird - because Sarah is too weak.

Okay, seriously. Why are all vampires messy eaters? It can't be that hard to get blood in your mouth & not all over the rest of you. Not that I'd know...

The doorbell rings as Miriam's enjoying her messy snack & oh no, it's the Boyfriend! He's here to see if Miriam's heard from Sarah because she didn't turn up to her doctor's appointment. But Sarah has The Hunger & The Hunger knows no bounds! 

Sarah is also a messy eater.

Sarah & Miriam start to kiss - bloodily, messily - when Sarah suddenly seizes the knife-hidden-as-an-ankh necklace &... stabs herself in the neck? Sarah dies, very dramatically.

The dreaded echo is back as Miriam wails & mourns. Sadness sounds even sadder with a synthesiser!

The drapes, how they billow! They billow even in flashbacks! This set is 3/4 drapes. Miriam carries Sarah's body up to the attic, where more drapes await.

But what's this? The drapes have brought the rotted lovers back from the grave! Run! Run & hide! (But hey, at least there are doves.)

The rotting lovers advance on Miriam, the bannister gives out & Miriam falls to the ground floor where she ages so rapidly that within ten seconds she is mostly skeleton. From what I can see, her death is death by drapes & doves. And synthesiser. And slow-mo. (It's what kills us all.)

One big happy family.

For the last scene, we cut to a big apartment in a big city, where Vampire Sarah (not dead, apparently, but, like dear Bela Lugosi, undead undead undead) caresses a new lover & shows off her pearl earrings & Miriam-inspired lipstick. You can tell she's Head Vampire now because she's wearing pearl earrings. It's science. 

No matter where you go - you can turn your immortal lover into a decaying corpse & seal her in a coffin for all eternity, you can sell your house, leave your boyfriend, move cities, live in a new apartment - but you will never get away from them. There will always be billowy drapes.