It’s never lupus

Yesterday’s TV series evening was fun. First “Finding Judas” on House, M.D., then Lost‘s “Flashes Before Your Eyes”.

Slap the parents and House both, please…!

Actually, I tell a lie. The “Judas” episode wasn’t fun, though it was eminently watchable. For the first time, House really seemed to lose it completely, becoming a strung-out bastard who used his incisive mind not to help his patient but to hurt those who are on his side. If Tritter wasn’t so clearly a bastard himself, he would have proven that he has a point in much of what he says. House’s words to Cuddy, for instance, were cruel and his general behaviour shitty. His suffering from withdrawal explains it, but it doesn’t excuse it.

Obviously the episode was manipulative (even more so than most of House), but effectively so. I knew they wouldn’t amputate the little girl’s arm and leg, but part of me sat there thinking “Ohshitohshitohshit…” nevertheless. I’m curious to see where they’ll take the Tritter plot and Wilson’s friendship with House, as that storyline seems to be coming to a head. And I wonder whether it’ll ever be lupus…

“Flashes Before Your Eyes” was an intriguing episode of Lost, and a heavy focus on Desmond is always welcome. For all its meandering and self-indulgence, the series has been fairly good at introducing new and interesting characters: Ben, Mr Eko, Desmond. The episode also had some interesting twists, such as the Precog Scot trying to save Charlie (and not Claire, as it appears at first), and the clever use of the flashback convention.

It’s oh-so-British, innit?

I could have done without the fake Englishness of some of it, though. The series’ England feels as if its makers only know the country from bad movies and TV. Especially Fionnula Flanagan’s character felt fake, when she should have been eerie. Still, though, it looks like Charlie – possibly the character who annoys me most – is heading for a rendezvous with the Grim Reaper. Can’t say I’m going to be too sad. Then again, they made me kinda like Shannon and Boone just before killing them off. The Lost writers are obviously bastards.

It is not a coma!

Yesterday my love came back from her holidays, and we watched a double bill of House, M.D. The first of the episodes, “Son of Coma Guy”, was one of the best, sharpest written episodes in a long time (and that on a series that has no shortage of sharp writing). Like many of the best House episodes, it broke the usual pattern: I like the series, but 95% of the episodes have exactly the same plot, the only difference being names, faces and illnesses. You can imagine a licenced version of the Clue board game: “Mr Smith, in the MRI room, with the lupus.”

 The other thing it shared with my favourite episodes: “Son of Coma Guy” had a strong foil for Greg House in coma guy Gabriel Wozniak (John Laroquette). Two, even, if you count Wilson who’s definitely benefitting from the Tritter storyline. It’s quite heartrending to see Wilson’s friendship with House being brought close to breaking point, but it’s showing us a side of Wilson that we haven’t seen yet: he may be strong enough, and hurt enough, to draw the line at some point.

The episode benefitted from an effective performance by Laroquette (if only I could remember where I’ve seen him before…) who gelled very well with Hugh Laurie. And I loved House’s subtle screwing with Coma Guy’s head, suggesting that the future he’d woken up to was weird and wonderful in so many ways. And, of course, it’s got ip-ods!

That’s entertainment!

Fists of guilt?

Let me be clear. Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are great cinema, and they deserve all the accolades they get. But they’re the kind of movies I appreciate rather than enjoy. Watching Raging Bull yesterday, for the second or third time, I was struck less by the virtuoso cinematography and editing, by Martin Scorsese’s effective use of music (yet again), or by the performances, than by the sheer masochism in the movie. LaMotta’s masochism, where especially the later fights are extended bouts of self-punishment for his dimly understood sins. De Niro’s masochism, putting on 60 pounds for the role. But there’s also an element of masochism in sitting through this masterpiece. Paul Schrader (probably more so than Scorsese) writes the most effective guilt trips, but it’s difficult not to flinch and despair a little more at mankind (it’s really the men who come off looking worst in the guilt stakes) when LaMotta punches the walls of his prison cell or when he does his “I coulda been a contender” speech, or when Travis Bickle puts a finger dripping with blood to his temple and mimes blowing his head off.

 On a less masochist note: last night’s episode of House, M.D. (“Que Sera, Sera”) featured a remarkably controlled performance by both Pruitt Taylor Vince and his fat suit, transforming him into a 600-lb patient. While the episode was far from perfect, kudos ought to go to the House team for an astute handling of what could have been eminently tasteless TV.

Demurely Wilde

There used to be a time, in the late ’80s and early ’90s when I thought that Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry could only be booked as an ensemble. These days, both of them seem to have done well enough on their own. Laurie appears to have become more of a star, mainly thanks to his wonderful Gregory House, M.D. (Admittedly, the series wouldn’t work without him.) Fry, on the other hand, is less visible but does more different things, a small part in a movie here, writing novels there, and voicing interplanetary repositories of knowledge in between, all of which seem to fit him quite neatly.

We watched Wilde yesterday, a film for which I had fairly high expectations. Unfortunately, for me the high point of the film was seeing a teensy, pixie-ish Orlando “Not an elf yet” Bloom playing a rent boy, wearing a bowler hat twice his size. No, that’s not quite true. (Well, the bit about the bowler hat is.) Wilde isn’t a bad film: the acting’s quite good, as is to be expected with such a distinguished cast, and it’s handsomely made. But it’s basically a run-of-the-mill, all too earnest (the pun is accidental) period drama, the only difference being that the tasteful sex scenes are between men. There’s a German word that can’t really be translated – betulich – that fits the film, in my opinion. It roughly means “staid”, “respectable”, “well-meaning”. Is this what a Wilde biopic, or indeed any film, should be?

The problem mainly lies with the script. The characters are clear-cut from the beginning and remain static throughout. Oscar is sweet, witty, but too much of a doe-eyed romantic when it comes to beautiful young men. Bosie is a shallow, callous narcissist. Oscar’s wife Constance is hard done by, but loyal. The closest the film comes to character development is when one of the protagonists grows a moustache.

And while I didn’t watch the film for hot, sweaty man-on-man action, is it too much to ask that the homoerotic scenes are actually erotic? The sex scenes are entirely too coy. (There is one ironic camera pan from a Wilde coupling to the window drapes swaying in the wind, although that was perhaps the only glint of visual wit in the film.) As a result of the movie’s consistent respectability, there’s no sense of outrage at the late Victorian homophobia and hypocrisy, just a passive acceptance of Oscar’s inevitable fate, reinforced by the film’s score working hard to make it clear that we’re watching something tragic.

Oscar Wilde, looking stylishly bored

Finally, the film succeeded most in making me think that Oscar Wilde, for all his sparkling wit, may have been a sad bore. A nice guy, surely, and very sweet, but in the end faintly pathetic and faintly boring. Like one of his aphorisms on yet another souvenir mug sold cheaply.

Morse code

Ah, to live in the early 21st century… To be able to sit in a little café, drinking fresh, good coffee, listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations while reading China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station. And then to come to the office, start up the computer, and blog about it, to validate the experience.

(NB: If this was an e-mail or a message board post, I would have put a winking emoticon at the end of the paragraph, to indicate the subtle postmodern irony – there I go again, being less than perfectly serious! – but I try to do entirely without smileys in this blog. After all, Jane Austen, Randy Newman and Alanis Morissette managed entirely without…)

However, this blog entry is not about irony, or cafe latte or the Goldberg Variations (which I am proud to say I can listen to almost without thinking of Hannibal Lecter). It’s more of a dire warning.

For I have seen the face of evil. And it looks like this.

Looks innocuous enough, you think? Look again.

You may be wondering what it is that makes me think David Morse is evil. The reason is quite simple: he’s the one responsible for dooming the human race. He’s the one who released the virus that killed most of humanity, forcing us to live underground. He is evil.

And this may be where you go, “Huh?” And, if you know where I am currently located, you may even be calling the doctors to come and take me away. If you know Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, you might understand what I’m going on about, but it might still not make that much more sense to you.

Yes, I can distinguish between fiction and reality. Yes, I know that David Morse is an actor, hired to play characters, such as the apocalypse nut in 12 Monkeys. And yet. Every time he pops up on screen, I tense up. I take an immediate and intense dislike to him. Sometimes I’m proven right (Dancer in the Dark). Sometimes I’m proven wrong (The Green Mile). Sometimes the film and the scenes he’s in are so atrocious that it’s hard not to feel sorry for Morse (Contact, anyone? Daddy issues on tacky intergalactic beaches?). But I don’t trust the guy, and therefore I cheered on the inside at the thought of Greg House, M.D. and PhD in Misanthropy deciding to thwart the Morseman’s evil plans. Who will come out on top in the upcoming fight between House and his newly found nemesis? Only time will tell. Until then, it’s drawn thermometers at dawn.