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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (12/13/10) 4:06pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Roxanne
TV:  Dollhouse [2x08-2x12] [spoilers]
Books:  <none>

This is Steve Martin's modern-day take on Cyrano de Bergerac from 1987.  I hadn't seen it since I was a kid, so I figured I'd see how it held up.

Answer:  not as well as I'd hoped.

I know it's irrational, I can't help getting testy when I feel like a film is self-aggrandizing.  When a big star writes and produces a big-budget Hollywood movie, puts himself in the lead role, and makes that lead character wall-to-wall awesome at all times, I'm invariably going to sigh, grimace a bit, and ask no one in particular, "Really?"  Ah, so Steve Martin's character is beloved of the whole town? and all his jokes are hilarious? and he's skilled at hand-to-hand combat? and he's great at his job? and he's the best verbal seducer that ever lived?

*sigh*  Really?

And I know that this is irrational.  I know that most of these qualities of "C. D. Bales" correspond to identical qualities in Rostand's "C. d. B."  But this 'awesome lead character' thing always feels a bit sad to me, like the auteur is trying to create something in the fictional world that he never got in the real world.  Wouldn't it be nice if he could beat up the coked-up bullies, win over the girls with good jokes, and have the gymnastic skills of a journeyman stunt double.

So I had that distracting me from the film.

I didn't think the cast, apart from Martin, was all that strong.  Darryl Hannah doesn't screw anything up, but her Roxanne strikes me as sort of vacant.  The boys must be smitten by her looks, because I can't really see a personality there.  And the less said of Chris (played by Rich Rossovich, who'd go on to... lessee... Pacific Blue), the better.

But deep down, what gets under my skin here is knowing the big change that Steve Martin made while adapting this.  The original play ends tragically -- Cyrano only confesses his love for Roxanne as he is dying.  Martin wisely changed things around so that Chris leaves town with a cocktail waitress, and Charlie and Roxanne wind up together.

I know this makes sense from a commercial perspective.  It makes sense from a movie-structure perspective.  It makes sense from a genre perspective.

But what gets to me is this:  Cyrano feels like how life works.  If you never bring yourself to say how you feel, you *deserve* tragedy.  Tacking on the happy ending turns Roxanne into... well, into another happy little lie we tell ourselves.  If you're just a good person, eventually you'll get the girl just... because.

Finally, the score will leave you momentarily convinced that no good movie scores came out of the eighties.  It's all light, treacly, cheap synths that feel better-suited to a low-budget 80s children's cartoon or a low-budget 80s porno, depending on the scene.

All that said, the movie definitely achieves what it sets out to do.  If I can set aside my own irritation and baggage, I can enjoy it as a piece of light, harmless fare.  For instance, if I can ignore the implications of having a horribly incompetent fire department, then I can enjoy the cartoonish hijinx the firemen get up to.  It tries to be a light, trifling way to while away an hour or two.  I suspect if I were somebody other than me, I could probably watch it, chuckle lightly a few times, and not consider my time wasted.

(Side note:  the DVD I got from netflix was pan-and-scan.  God, what an abomination that is.)

Dollhouse [2x08-2x11] [spoilers]
This latest disc of Dollhouse includes the episodes "A Love Supreme", "Stop-Loss", "The Attic", and "Getting Closer".

Let me say from the outset that I don't care about Alpha.

Much as I love Alan Tudyk, his character in Dollhouse feels like yet another of those Xanatos-Gambit-ing psychos (XGPs) that thrillers over-rely on.  An XPG doesn't need motivations that make any kind of sense, because -- hey! crazy!  Crazy excuses everything!  An XPG doesn't need to come up with a plan that might possibly ever work in this universe, because the XPG is given huge powers that would be the equivalent of rolling all natural twenties on your D&D character creation.  An XPG doesn't even have to execute the most direct plan to achieve that goal, because -- hey! crazy!  And the XPG can, instead of having reasonable dialog, just pontificate a bad-teenage-poetry disquisition on whatever theme the writers want to make the story seem to be about, because -- everybody now -- hey! crazy!

An XPG gives you a narrative that doesn't play fair and doesn't require intelligence to write.  The best you can hope is that the writers can work some scares into it, and that the actor relishes chewing the scenery.

And the show achieves those goals in "A Love Supreme", but even *that* falls far short of what Dollhouse is capable of at this point.  This far into season two, the show is firing on all cylinders, and it's exploring bewildering sci-fi territory that no other TV show can touch.  You don't know what will happen next because you can't figure out what bizarre implication of imprinting technology they'll chase down next, or what unexpected way the pieces will start coming together.

But no, we have to take a short break from that so we can watch Alpha be a supervillain for forty minutes. 

*yawn*  Wake me when it's done.

Fortunately, right after that, we have possibly the best three-episode stretch I've seen in this show.  At this point, the show has two things going for it:  (1) they know what the show is, and (2) they know they're going to get cancelled.  Now, some shows respond to (2) by getting tentative, and cautious, and obsequious to network notes.  But other shows, including this one (and Freaks and Geeks, come to think of it) go into what I would call "fire-sale mode", where they yank every idea they've had off the shelf and tear through them like there's no tomorrow.

In the process, the show starts answering lingering questions along the lines of "but if you had imprinting technology, wouldn't you also have <x>?" questions.  For instance, wouldn't you also have hive-mind technology?  And "Stop-Loss" and "The Attic" tell us that yes, you would.  And wouldn't you just start imprinting everybody at will?  "Getting Closer" says yes, you would.  And wouldn't you just try to take over the world?  Well, "The Attic" includes the line "First, they'll try to implant someone in the government."  Oh, right.

It also starts answering big questions that they've set up almost at the beginning of the show.  What will happen when Victor finishes his contract but Sierra doesn't?  What is the Attic?  And it pokes at some more recent questions:  how is Caroline's war going to go down? and how do we reach the apocalypse sketched out in "Epitaph One"?

The Attic paid off beautifully.  Extended dream sequences (especially on TV shows) can often be faux-arty and self-indulgent, but in "The Attic", it was just scary.  This was a stupid, stupid episode for me to watch right before going to bed.  The creepy multi-faced man stroking the rabbit will be nightmare fodder for some time, to say nothing of the jolly Japanese security expert.  *shudder*

And then we're into "Getting Closer".  By this point the show is almost LOST-like in that the reveals almost feel arbitrary.  Oh, and now they've been betrayed by Dr. Saunders.  Okay.  Um... now Boyd is secretly the head of Rossum?  But how would that even... fine, um, let's see how that plays out.

They've built the show up to such a crazy fever pitch that insane, world-shattering reveals feel right for the show's current tone.  In a show that expected to last longer, this might be disastrous -- it could violate the audience's trust for season three, and piling on another season of switchbacks and surprises could make the whole thing collapse under its own weight.  But they're not expecting a season three, so they can go full tilt into "insane roller coaster" mode.

I love that.

But now there are only three episodes left in the series, and one of them is the bookend "Epitaph Two".  I'm guessing whatever else they've had up their sleeves, they're dropping on the table soon.

For next time, I'm watching more of my friends crop up in Friday Night Lights, finishing off Hard Times, and continuing through A Game of Thrones.

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Date:Monday (12/13/10) 7:07pm
I have a lot of love for Roxanne, but probably a lot of it has to do with having seen it several times since I was a kid, and so never quite losing the thread of affection for it, and my preteen crush on Steve Martin as CD Bales.

Also, Cyrano de Bergerac is one of my all-time favorite literary/dramatic works, so I enjoy doing a compare/contrast with other treatments of the story. Sort of as though it's fanfic, I guess? Which it pretty much is - a modern AU where the ending gets "fixed." And while I take your point and agree that the ending is ridiculously fluffy, so's the whole world being presented - nobody's starving, Roxane's not going to be forced into marriage or raped, the corruption of the court is reduced to a small town mayor wanting to put on an Oktoberfest, the war is reduced to a housefire, nobody's going to be assassinated, etc. It's sort of like, hey, maybe in a world that's less hostile, where the stakes are a lot lower, and where women a bit more power over their own life decisions, this could've all worked out? Granted, that's a lot less compelling than the original.

I agree with you that Roxanne as a character seems pretty flat, but I think that's Daryl Hannah's acting: the character as written has plenty of good lines and scenes and interests of her own. More, really, than most romcom love interests.

I've noticed a lot of adaptations of CdB tend to emphasize or prioritize either the Cyrano/Roxane angle or the Cyrano-Christian friendship angle of the love triangle, and Roxanne is firmly in the first camp. On the minus side, that gives us dropped-on-his-head-stupid Chris (except in the scene with the barmaid, where I quite like both their characters); on the plus side, we do get to see Roxanne and CD being friends and connecting that way, and Roxanne's desire for High Romance isn't presented as dumb and girly and unreasonable (as is often the case in regular productions) but as wanting someone around her own level of intelligence who shares her tastes and interests. Which is nice. She also gets to find out WTF has been going on, process it, and make her own decision about what to do, instead of having her choice taken away twice by one man or the other dying in front of her. Which, again, nice.

Tl;dr, wow. I guess I just enjoy the idea that, somewhere in the multiverse, among all those tragically dying Cyranos and weeping Roxanes and also-tragically-dying-unknown Christians, there's a universe where Cyrano got the girl, the girl got a career (and Cyrano), and Christian got to run off to a resort town with a pretty lady who likes him.

...Oh, and I agree with everything you said about Dollhouse, and enjoyed reading it. :)
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